A short story
2237 hours, June 16, 2011
Saint Simons Island, Georgia
Smitty and D.C. were parked at the north end of the island airfield, in the gravel lot where locals sold produce and a damn good iteration of boiled peanuts during the day. They’d parked their patrol cars in opposite directions, with their drivers’ windows a couple feet apart, and had been there for about fifteen minutes when a gray Dodge minivan pulled in a few car lengths away. The elderly man behind the wheel stepped out, and began what looked like a painful walk toward the police vehicles. Smitty backed his car away so he could get out, and stepped quickly to the old man to reduce the distance he’d walk from the van. It was obvious that walking gave him trouble.
“What can I do for you, sir?” Smitty asked.
“Son, can you tell me how to get to the King and Prince?”
Normally, Smitty took offense to men other than his father using the term son, but the ‘Retired Navy’ pin on the lapel of the old man’s tweed jacket earned him a pass.
“Sir, if you keep straight, the way you were going, you’ll come to a caution light at the East Beach Causeway. When you get there, turn left and drive ‘til you see Ocean Boulevard, and hang a right. Once you’re on Ocean, you’ll get to another caution light at Arnold Road, where you want to turn left again. After that left, just head to the end of Arnold, and you can’t miss the King and Prince.”
“Straight to caution light, left, right on Ocean, left on Arnold?” the man shot back, sharp as a broadhead.
“Yessir, you got it.” Smitty replied.
“Thank you, Officer.”
The retired Admiral, as Smitty could then see by the vanity plate on the front of the Dodge, shuffled back to his cockpit and turned a circle to leave the lot. Using his turn signal, the Admiral took off in the direction he’d come from, going the wrong way. D.C. backed his cruiser to where Smitty stood.
“Didn’t you just tell him to keep going the way he was?” D.C. asked.
“Yeah. Go figure.” he responded, and turned to go back to his car.
“Dispatch to 1360.” said a female voice, an irritating whine coming across the police band.
“1360, go ahead.” said John Duncan, the officer holding that badge number.
“1360, I have a residential alarm at cottage 87 on Reibald Lane. The activation is an interior motion alarm.”
“I’m clear, Dispatch. I’ll be there in a few.” John responded.
In the four minutes Smitty had been out of his car, a slimy sheen of sweat began to coat his skin. Back inside the cruiser, he clicked the fan to the second position, and turned the cooling knob a bit further away from its full setting. Ten minutes at the coldest setting would have condensation covering all the windows, which irritated Smitty to no end. During the summer months in coastal Georgia, he never really stopped sweating while he was at work, but he could reduce it to an extent. He pulled alongside D.C. again.
“Where’s the damn night shift? They decide to read the Bill of Rights at shift change or something?”
D.C. chuckled and turned away, and opened his cell phone as it chimed with a text message. He read it and turned back to Smitty.
“Night shift island units are gonna try to serve a few warrants on the mainland before we have to go home. Tom sent a text about it.”
A few minutes passed, with D.C. texting away at a girl he’d met at Brogen’s the previous weekend, and they decided to head out for some neighborhood checks, one heading north and the other south. Cars were constantly being broken into during the summer on Saint Simons, when kids were out of school, feeling their oats with lessened parental scrutiny. As each officer neared a chosen subdivision, they heard Duncan, the Sea Island unit, tell the radio room he was at the alarm location.
Smitty had just pulled into the Sea Palms area, where nearly every small intersection became a hazard due to the ridiculous zeal of homeowners trying to outdo each other in the landscaping game. Every corner had some kind of tree or bush you couldn’t see around. He often wondered why there weren’t more accidents in the neighborhood, but gave it up quickly, placing it on the list of things he’d never understand. D.C. was on foot along Butler Avenue, strolling quietly through the shadows and shrubs, listening for anything out of the ordinary. Every few minutes, he’d use his flashlight to illuminate a car in a driveway, checking for broken windows or doors left ajar. It was a long shot, but it beat driving in circles all night. Boredom was often a source of stress at night, but for Smitty and D.C., it led to creative activities.
Their quiet night was about to erupt into a chaos for which none of them were prepared. There was nothing in the police academy that covered it.
“Send me some units! Send me some more units! I’ve got one with the Taser, but he won’t go down!”
Neither D.C. nor Smitty needed to be told to go. Smitty tore a swath through a lawn he was sure he’d have to pay for, swinging wide right and pinning the accelerator to the floor. D.C. broke into a sprint, back to his car, and pulled a similar maneuver in the middle of the street, boogers of tire material mixed with tiny rooster tails of dirt and bitumen. The sergeant, after a moment, came on the radio and asked if they were heading to Duncan’s location, and when each answered their boss it would have been obvious to anyone listening they were doing just that. Behind their voices, the growl of Interceptor engines permeated the air.
They knew Duncan was in trouble by the tone of his voice, a full octave higher than usual, and by the crackling sound of the Taser in the background. Smitty lost about thirty seconds to D.C. while skittering through Sea Palms from its extreme eastern edge, and D.C. actually caught up to him on the Sea Island causeway. At the main gate, the guard barely managed to raise the barrier as the Crown Victorias bounced and smoked along the cobblestone drive, their pilots guided by dispatchers with turn by turn directions. They were in John Duncan’s back yard, looking for him.
Of all the things a policeman might witness over a career, every so often something happens he’s never imagined. They rounded the corner of the enormous, sixteen-bedroom home in white stucco, into the dark side passage where their comrade was dealing with the problem that caused him to scream for help. Pistols drawn, their weapon lights illuminated the man in front of them who had two thin wires running from his body to the electrical device in John’s hands. In seconds it was clear to them the man wasn’t armed, so they quickly holstered their sidearms and pulled out flashlights. While they had been covering the man with their pistols, neither would have been in good shape to fire because John was directly behind the man. The Taser was still on, its snapping, raspy voice just loud enough to keep the tension five ratchets too high.
“He won’t go down!” said John. “Every time I let off it, he starts walking again!”
It was so rare for a Taser to have absolutely no effect, Smitty knew another force had to be in the equation. He told John to let off, and when the Taser’s voltage stopped, Smitty and D.C. snatched the man by his shirt and slammed him to the pavers, all the while telling him to turn over and put his hand behind his back. They didn’t know who he was, or what he’d done to make John put the jazz on him, but they were damned sure going to find out before someone got hurt.
The man’s head made a sickly thud when it hit the concrete paver, and he was motionless, his eyes open but fixed on the beyond, behind a milky pink shroud that nearly hid the irises. A flow of pus-like fluid had built up and congealed on his upper lip, but most alarming of all was the deep red crust of blood surrounding his mouth. His parted lips revealed teeth covered in a film of a mix of fluids that didn’t belong there, and D.C. noticed what looked like bits of skin lodged in, as well.
“Shit, he’s knocked the fuck out.” said Smitty.
Presently, the sergeant called to ask if they were okay. He got a quick response.
“We’ve got it secure for now,” said D.C., but his tone was apprehensive.
As Smitty swung his light back to John, a figure appeared behind him, a man with the same crimson goatee and unchecked nasal discharge, complimented by whitewashed eyes. Smitty barely had time to yell at John, and the man lunged forward and chomped down on the side of John’s neck. He dropped the Taser and began a series of elbow strikes that seemed to have no effect on the deranged thing, and the thought quickly overtook John he was in a fight for his life. The bite itself was deep, but the pain hadn’t crept in yet, so John twisted beneath the man and reached up to his face, shoving him backward, causing him to fall. He immediately put pressure on the bite site, while Smitty and D.C. charged forward with batons and flashlights to subdue the crazed man as he tried to get up. Swinging with all they could muster, the lightweight collapsible batons had no more effect than had the Taser before. In a microsecond of rage, D.C. raised his Danner Acadia and brought it down on the man’s head, denting the cranium and sending him limp.
For about thirty seconds, the three of them just stood there, trying to make sense of things. The strange men were obviously sick with something; the officers didn’t need medical degrees to know it. They turned to the second man, looking at the depression in his skull, each wondering how they’d explain the injury, possible coma, or the worst case scenario of death. Kicking an unarmed man in the head while he was down was not something a police officer could get away with in America. D.C. was immediately filled with the lead weight of regret, brimming with contempt for this sick man who’d created the situation, and visions of a courtroom where the defendant’s chair was occupied by his unemployed ass crept into his mind. Then they heard a sound of metal scraping on concrete. D.C. was so funked by the last moments he didn’t hear Smitty yell, or notice him draw his pistol.
Smitty turned his light back toward the sound, where the LED cascaded a bluish white over the man they thought was unconscious, now moving forward at them with a shovel raised over his head. He was perhaps fifteen feet from D.C., and Smitty barked a short command before firing twice, hitting the man in the nose and teeth. The shovel-wielding lunatic fell to the ground and became as still as the red brick pavers. D.C. turned to look at him, and the man with the dented head issued forth a guttural, wheezing grunt as he sat up, blood and mucus piling out of his mouth, and it was in that moment that D.C. knew what they were dealing with. He drew his .45 pistol, and when the thing was sitting upright he took one step closer and aimed. With one shot, he sent a plume of grayish-red goo spraying out the back of its head, ending its second life.
A little more certain the things wouldn’t be moving again, John sat down in a wrought iron chair beside the walkway. D.C. calmly holstered his pistol and looked at Smitty, who was still covering the one he shot in case it got back up.
“I never believed in shit like this.” said D.C.
“I still don’t.” Smitty said.
“Is one of you assholes gonna call me an ambulance?” asked John.
“Yeah, yeah. I got it.” D.C. responded. The dispatcher asked, as usual, what the nature of the injuries were, so she could pass the information along to Fire Control. “Be advised, 1360 has an open bite wound to his neck. He’s holding pressure on it, but he needs a medic.”
The dispatcher acknowledged the information with a questioning tone, but that was all. She knew something bad had happened, and who was she to question the officer at the scene?
“Fucking zombies, man.” said D.C.
“What did you say?” asked John. “Did you say zombies?”
“Yeah, I said zombies. Don’t you ever watch horror movies? You Tasered the hell out of that clown there, and all it did was put his ass on pause.” D.C. turned to the one he’d stomped only minutes earlier. “And this one, I curb stomped this motherfucker and he sat up like he just got through with nap time. You got a better explanation, Grandpa?”
“Gotta be college boys, geeked up on some shit or other. Drunk, and got Mad Cow disease or something.”
Smitty finally put his pistol away, and decided he was going to side with D.C. on the zombie issue.
“So,” remarked John, who was beginning to blanch from blood loss, “you’re telling me these two fucks are the walking undead? You need to stop all that crack smoking, boy.”
“Actually, they’re walking dead. Undead implies they’re alive, which is what we are for now, and what these two dorks are definitely not.”
In the distance, they could hear the double siren of the ambulance getting closer. It had probably just made the turn onto the causeway, which put it at just under a mile from where they stood. About a minute later the siren cut out, and Smitty assumed it was because the medics were about to pull up out front. He jogged out to the road, but there was no ambulance.
“1351 to Dispatch, where’s that ambulance? I heard them roll in, and I’m in front of the residence. Can you get an ETA?” Smitty asked.
“Stand by, 1351.”
Standing in the hollow darkness of Reibald Lane, Smitty realized he was drenched in sweat. He could feel the beads running down the channel in his vest formed by his spine, and where it collected in the waistband of his pants. The muggy glove of marsh-tainted odor wafted through the trees, and he became aware of another scent as the breeze drifted by. It wasn’t the marsh, and it wasn’t overflow from a nearby sewage lift station. The smell was of decay, piss, and shit, and the ménage of other bodily fluids he’d encountered over his career, and it was entirely out of place in his current setting.
“Dispatch to 1351.”
“Go ahead, ma’am.”
“Squad 4 advised they just struck a pedestrian on Sea Island Drive. Fire Control is dispatching Squad 2 to your location. How copy?”
“We’re clear, Dispatch. Have Squad 2 meet us at the main gate. 1360 is ambulatory, conscious, and alert. We’ll move him with a patrol car.” said Smitty.
He jogged back to the side access of the mansion, where D.C. was helping John to his feet. They’d heard the radio traffic, and Smitty could tell they didn’t want to hang out any longer than they had to. Normally, they would wait for an ambulance to take John away. They’d remain to secure the scene, until detectives arrived and released them. Neither D.C. nor Smitty felt like sticking around, since they were relatively sure the two creatures weren’t getting back up. D.C. mentioned how quiet it was, despite shots being fired in a residential area. It could be expected that a neighbor, or neighbors, would call the police department to ask what the hell was going on with the lights, sirens, and gunshots. It was just one more thing out of place on what should have been a quiet night in a permanent resort community.
They weren’t done, though. Not by a long shot.
A Long Time Ago, in a State Far Away
Fort Detrick, Maryland
In a low-security vault at Fort Detrick, mere feet away from everyday employees and even visitors to the site, incalculable horrors were swirling around inside a refrigerated box roughly the size of a deep freezer one would find in homes across America. The unit had been shuffled from lab to lab, and room to room, where there was enough space, since President Nixon had ordered the breakdown of the U.S. Army Biological Warfare Laboratories in 1969. The Federal government, however, always wanted to keep an ace up its sleeve, and so began the seemingly endless movement of the freezer. For thirteen years it was pushed, rolled, and maneuvered to corner after corner until Shaheed Markawi found it.
Shaheed learned the true nature of the freezer’s contents a year earlier, as the Assistant Director, Civilian Oversight, Chemical/Biological/Radiological Threat Assessment Branch. Even the acronym for his position would not fit on an ID badge, and only once since he’d taken the job had its title been uttered in full. He was thankful no one asked him to say it five times fast; English was his second language.
He’d been tasked by the Secretary to conduct an inventory after a single VX munition failed to show up at the Anniston Army Depot in Gadsden, Alabama for disposal. As a chemical round, VX was still on hand but had to be destroyed in batches as the shelf life eroded. The engineers and chemists who birthed that bastard child of a pest control agent would swear on their mothers’ graves that the containers would be good for fifty years, but the men who had to work around them weren’t so confident. They saw the effects of the lowest bidder every day.
The VX round was located, at its original storage location at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, but during the count at Detrick, Shaheed discovered what appeared to be a clerical error near the end of the tally. On the dot-matrix printout of dangerous things that belonged on their little piece of Maryland, he saw an entry for three warhead cores containing a substance listed as O.D.D. He mused at the letters on the page as he strolled down the main corridor on the way to the Director, Civilian Oversight, Maxwell Funk, hoping once again that he’d be able to hide the man inside him.
“Mr. Funk, we seem to be missing three units. The entry date on the inventory goes back to 1971, so it appears to have been here since then. Previous counts show the units on site, in hold 19, but it’s not there. No one I’ve talked to knows anything about O.D.D.” Shaheed said, taking a seat without asking.
Funk sighed, and shifted his reading glasses lower on his bulbous nose, and pinched his nostrils to ward off the itch of an errant booger. Maxwell Funk carried a doctorate from MIT in chemical engineering, but didn’t lord it over his subordinates with less education, choosing instead to take the more practical role of mentor in the weapons development game. His bushy gray hair was combed over the pattern balding area, and his beady eyes belied the gentle personality behind them. He looked at Shaheed, and instructed him to close the office door.
“This will take less than a minute to explain, but if you disclose any of it, you’ll spend every other minute you own on this earth behind bars. Capice?”
It was a soft-hearted joke, but Shaheed understood the legal implications in Funk’s statement.
“What is it?’ Markawi asked after closing the overpriced oak panel door.
“You’ve been here what, eight years now? Six years of hard work, late nights in the lab, deadlines, congressional oversight and hearings, weeks of projects on hold, and the last year as my right hand man.” Funk said.
“That is accurate, sir.”
Funk shifted in his chair as the weight of his decision rolled from his gut, spilling to the floor.
“Shaheed, there are some things the U.S. government would rather keep secret. I’m sure that somewhere there are photos and documents they’d rather not be found. Somewhere, there are people they’d rather not be found.” Funk paused to sit back in his chair, and readied himself to exhale one of several secrets entrusted to him by his predecessor. “Here we keep a biological weapon; one the government would rather remain unknown to the public.”
Markawi took his seat again. On the outside he appeared sedate and accepting, but his heart was running a sprint, clawing at his sternum. Funk continued.
“The three items you are seeking are labeled O.D.D. The term ‘odd’ had nothing to do with it. It’s code for Operation Demolition Derby. We chose the name because in the end, that’s how the weapon would play out. No one comes out unscathed. Even if you win the derby, you’ll be scarred for life, and at the minimum, you’ll need a new set of wheels.”
Shaheed’s mind began to spin, the proverbial gears turning at a speed its processor could not keep pace with.
“So,” said Shaheed, “the units are here? I can submit my report and be able to say all our materials are accounted for?”
“Truthfully, yes. If you want to see the O.D.D. device, all you have to do is go to the cafeteria. Go behind the counter and take a left toward the refrigeration units. You’ll see a freezer marked ‘For Prison and Military Use Only,’ and the only thing inside will look like three vats of ice cream. One chocolate, one vanilla, one strawberry. I know what you’re thinking, and yes, but this Neopolitan will eat you down to the bone.”
“What is the reason for segregating it, but housing it in the cafeteria? If it is weaponized, should it not be in a more secure place?” asked Shaheed.
“Have you ever heard of hiding in plain sight?” Funk said. “The cooks ignore it, and if the rotation continues, the fridge will be moved in another month, to be forgotten about again. This thing in the vats, the O.D.D., if it were to be released, well, I just don’t know. The computers made some frightening predictions.”
“What’s so terrible about it? I know the averages for efficacy with regard to chemical and biological agents, what is so different about O.D.D.? It can’t be much worse than anything else the United States has tried.”
“Shaheed, I know you know the infection and efficacy probabilities. Demolition Derby can’t be put into the same category. It has a one-hundred percent mortality rate.”
“Doctor Funk, I beg your pardon, but there is nothing developed by man or nature that has a mortality rate that high.” Shaheed stated, his heart fluttering a mile a minute while he struggled to preserve his outward appearance.
“This agent kills everyone infected. I don’t know what else to say.” Funk concluded.
“Then why is it being hidden from the congressional oversight committee? If we have decided to keep it, why hide it?”
“Demolition Derby was high on the list of things to be destroyed when Nixon decided to shelve the biological weapons program. It should have been the first item to be completely incinerated. There were elements in the government, apart from the executive branch, who wanted to keep the weapon available in the event it was deemed necessary. I can’t say that I know any of these elements personally, but I know they existed at the time the program was ordered disbanded.” said Funk. Shaheed could tell the information coming across was genuine, and even with the conspiratorial tone he was able to determine his boss was genuine in the delivery.
“If it were so terrible, why keep it, though? Was there no risk of cross contamination to friendly troops and allies? If it were manageable, why not keep it in inventory?” Shaheed asked, prying as little as possible while remaining solidly inside the scope of his position.
“There is no cure, no antidote, no vaccination. The risk was too great for use as a first strike weapon, or as a retaliatory instrument. There was only one reason to keep it around.”
“What possible use could we have for keeping such a horrible thing in our possession? If we would not use it against our enemy, why would we risk keeping it longer, giving the enemy a larger window in which to obtain it? I mean, I’m not a tactician or strategist, but why would we keep it around if there was no plan to use it?”
“There was a plan to use it, Shaheed. As a last strike weapon.” said Funk, lending the appropriate finality.
“Excuse me, Doctor?”
“In the event we had taken a fatal series of strikes from an enemy, and our conventional and nuclear options failed, Demolition Derby would be released, and it would run its course.”
“To what end?”
“End?” chuckled Funk. “The end of the world as we know it.”
D.C. and Smitty piled John into Smitty's patrol car and headed for The Drive. John had begun to pale from blood loss, his acquired high blood pressure pulsing his fluid out and through the makeshift bandage and into his uniform. In the low light, his dark blue shirt looked wet and slick along the right side, and his blue-hued charcoal pants showed splotches of blood when they passed under a street light. The yellow beams of the ambulance headlights flashed across his badge, reflecting a small trace on the dashboard. He thought it was a hell of a time to notice that.
Smitty pulled alongside the bus, searching for the paramedics, who he found a few yards behind it. They were standing over a mess of a creature, splayed across the northbound lane in pieces, but mostly a mound of twisted zombie burrito.
"What the fuck is this?" asked Robbie Love, his bedside manner failing.
"That's a dead man, Robbie. Move your ass!" D.C. posted over his PA system.
Robbie glanced at his partner, Dane Jackson, and shrugged his shoulders. They'd seen plenty of dead people before, but not one that looked like a roadkill beaver floating in the swamp for a week. The creature's organs had spilled from its abdomen, and the viscous goo coating them was not so much blood as a version of brown, slimy clay. Jackson turned to Smitty.
"Don't we need to get an accident report?"
Smitty knew the medic couldn't know what happened at the burglar alarm, and probably didn't yet have a grasp of the situation brewing.
"That guy was dead before you hit him." Smitty said before catching a shadow in his rear view, something walking between their patrol cars. As the figure left the mirror's view, he heard the eight cylinder behind him growl and tires strain at the pavement. D.C. was scooting back, so to get more maneuvering room, Smitty punched it forward a couple car lengths before bailing out.
As he slid from the driver's seat, he heard John mumble something about hurrying up, but ignored him for the time being. He snatched the Remington 870 from its catch beside the seat and jacked a round into the chamber, pushing the cross block safety to the "fire" position. In the corner of his eye, he could see D.C. with the Glock in both hands, scuttling sideways in an arc around yet around another walking dead. This one was a woman, diminutive in height and stature but so sickly looking she seemed to beg to be put down. D.C. yelled verbal commands at her to stop, but she wouldn't; her arms were held out like oars, paddling forward, the slip-on shoes worn through from dragging the street and leaving snail trails on the asphalt. The same red mustache and goatee adorned her small mouth, which grew as she closed on them. After yelling "STOP" and "GET DOWN" what seemed to be a hundred times, Smitty fired first with the scattergun. At twenty yards, the spread was about the width of her shoulders, and she caught five pellets across the face and neck, the remaining shot punching holes in the side of the ambulance. He jacked another shotshell into the gun, but it was unnecessary when D.C. advanced and canoed the thing's face with his .45, sending it to the street with a sick thump.
"Holy fucking shit!" Jackson screamed.
Love stood where he was and said nothing. He walked to the recently re-deceased woman and looked down, surveying the splayed open skull and dark brown brain matter sluicing from the wound. He knew damn good and well that healthy brains weren't that color. Something was way wrong. He hopped behind the wheel of the red and white ambulance and beckoned for his partner, who quickly found his way to the passenger seat and closed and locked the door.
D.C.'s facial expression was unchanged; the world was suddenly different, and the regular rules did not apply. Sure that the creature was down for good, he got back in his car, and he and Smitty and the ambulance drove to the Sea Island main gate where the other crew was waiting. They shuffled John into the bus, and took stock of what they had left after positioning their cars in a V, facing east at the west foot of the cobblestone bridge. Smitty handed the shotgun and a box of shells to Love, and told him to watch the bridge.
"What do I do with this?" asked Love.
"You see any of those things, you shoot 'em." D.C. responded.
"I'm not a cop. I don't shoot people."
"They're not people." Smitty interjected. "I don't know what they are, but the only thing that stops them is being shot in the head. So you wait 'til they're close enough, and blow their fucking heads off."
"I can't do it. I don't even know how to work this thing."
"What the hell kind of Georgia boy are you?" D.C. asked.
"I'm from Canada." Love said.
"Gimme that damn thing," D.C. snapped, "I'll find someone who can." He looked around, but he and his partner and the two medics were the only ones around.
"Can I help you guys?" came a voice from the shadows.
"Who are you?" Smitty asked the little man. He'd come seemingly from nowhere, coalescing from the shadows.
"Grover Antonio Sanchez, formerly Staff Sergeant Sanchez of the Seventh Cavalry Division. I was in Vietnam. Now I work nights at the gate here." said the man. He stood just over five feet tall, and sported a slight gut, but the rest of him looked wiry and tough enough to eat nails. His bushy mustache was wide and thick, and he had a magnificent mane of jet black hair that was slicked back over his head.
"You work a shotgun, Sarge?" D.C. asked.
"Yes, Officer. I'll keep the bridge for you if the medics will turn traffic away at the gate. Shit, I knew something was wrong tonight."
"Why's that?" asked Smitty.
"No one's been talking on the radio for two hours. It's never quiet that long."
Smitty sent the medics to take Sanchez's place at the gate, hoping they could hold their own directing traffic until more backup arrived. They'd already requested their supervisors, one of whom would be going to the hospital to meet John. Smitty heard a groan in the distance, and the sound became familiar as the vehicle neared. The paramedics shouted, and tires squealed over the brick road as the patrol sergeant screeched to a stop behind them.
"Ya'll okay?" he asked loudly. His heavy frame cast a large shadow in front of him, and his gun belt creaked in protest with every step he took. Warren Chambers had been a policeman for almost twenty years, making the rounds of specialized units before settling back in patrol. He was well-rounded and mostly well liked, but the sour puss under his gray crew cut seemed out of place only because he had no idea what was going on.
"We're fine." said D.C.
"Trimble's gonna meet John at the hospital. How was he when he left?"
"He's got the ugliest bite wound I've ever seen, aside from some serious dog bites, but it looked like he'd make it. How much extra ammo do you have?"
The sergeant had been privy to his share of officer involved shootings over the years, but the demeanor of the two policemen before him was very different from his previous experiences. He knew Smitty had shot someone, before he came to work for the Sterling Police Department, but D.C. had never actually fired at anyone. For two men who'd spent the bulk of their police careers doing just that, police work, they seemed eerily calm. The request for ammo simply topped it off.
"What do you need more ammo for? Who's been shooting? I thought John just got bit by someone. Where's the asshole?" the sergeant asked.
"Over where the burglar alarm was. Both of them should be laying where we left them. The one got hit by the first ambulance, and the last one should be in the street in front of the Cloister." said D.C., matter-of-factly.
Chambers' face twisted, a scowl of epic proportions materializing at the news.
"You what?" the sergeant growled, "You left a fucking OIS crime scene unsecured? I'd expect this kind of shit from a day one rookie, but never in a million years would I have thought I'd see it from you two. You both know damn good and well about securing crime scenes, and--"
"Sergeant Chambers," interrupted Smitty quietly, "this isn't your run of the mill shooting. Those people, the ones we shot, weren't all there to begin with. If you want, we can drive over to one of the bodies, but I think once you see it you'll get the general idea."
"Yeah, let him see the girl. Her head's split open real good. Chambers, when you see what came out of her head, you'll flip. It's some crazy shit." said D.C.
Chambers, blushing with fury, forced himself to calm down by counting to ten and taking several deep breaths. He wasn't lying to the men when he said they'd fucked up by leaving the crime scene, but he also had to admit there must have been good reason to do so. Smitty climbed into his car, and Chambers took up the passenger seat. They crossed the cobblestone bridge, and as they rounded the curve to pass in front of the famous Cloister Hotel, they were greeted by a grisly scene from hell's sewer. Both the girl and the pedestrian struck by the ambulance were surrounded by the humanoid creatures, bent over, kneeling and squatting to get a bite to eat. They dug with their fingers, and gnashed with teeth into the soft, decaying flesh of the twice dead meat, blackish-brown drool mixing with dead blood frothing along their chops.
Chambers ordered Smitty to stop, and he did. The older man alit from the cruiser and drew his baton, charging at the two small mobs and shouting for them to disperse. Smitty got out and walked behind his sergeant, waiting for the reality to set in, and he pulled his pistol from the security holster on his hip.
"I said get back!" Chambers shouted.
His loud voice bellowed in the night, echoing off the elaborate frontage of the Cloister and bouncing back to him. The creatures all turned from their feast and rose to face Chambers, who froze in his tracks. He couldn't know it, but what they were seeing was fresh meat, what they were hearing was, ‘Come eat me,’ and what they smelled was like a buffet that had just been stocked. Shuffling and scraping, they began to make their way to where the sergeant stood. It didn't take him long to change the tune.
Smitty stopped beside him and raised his .45, taking careful aim. He let one round off, smacking the closest two-legged slug in the forehead and putting it down. Normally, a crowd of people would shy from seeing one in their group killed by the police, but the effect was not the same. The bulk of the group continued to advance, while two of them dropped to the newly minted speed bump and started to eat. It was at that point Chambers saw the ugly truth of the situation and drew his own service weapon, shaking, and he threw several hollowpoints into the crowd to no effect.
"What the fuck, Smitty? They act like we're not even here!"
"They know we're here, boss, and they're coming straight for us." Smitty said, capping another beast in the face before retreating to the car. Chambers did the same, except he missed the head of his target and hit it in the neck, flaying open a chunk of flesh and splattering the zombie beside it with brown goo. Smitty drove in reverse to the other side of the bridge and rejoined D.C. and Sanchez, who looked on them with apprehension.
"Well?" D.C. asked. "Did he see it?"
"Yeah, I saw it, now can someone tell me what the fuck is going on here?" Chambers asked.
"Zombies, boss. They're zombies. How many did y'all see over there?"
"Twelve, thirteen maybe. Maybe they heard all the commotion. Maybe that's what brought more of them around." Smitty remarked.
"Maybe. Sergeant, I don't know about you, but I don't think we have a policy in the book that covers this. We need help, and ammo, and we're going to need more than what we'll be able to get from the surrounding agencies. You'd better call the Chief and get him out here so he can get whatever ball needs to be rolling in motion."
"Right, right. Okay, you three keep this bridge held. I'm gonna get on the horn to dispatch, and have them raise the Chief. No more of this goes out over the radio. We'll have a panic and mass hysteria, and I don't wanna be the one on watch when that happens." said Chambers, obviously still thinking as a career cop. As bad as things were shaping up, he couldn't forget he would be counted among the supervisors in charge when the media got a hold of the story, and how big a brush would be used to slather shit on them.
Smitty, D.C. and Sanchez checked their weapons and ammunition. Each officer usually carried his sidearm and two spare magazines, giving him forty rounds total. Their shotguns held five rounds, but only four were in the magazine tube because it just wasn't smart to keep one in the chamber while it was riding in a rack in the car. Luckily, Smitty had confiscated a box of buck shot during the last range session while no one was looking. Sanchez had a full load in the gun, and twenty-three rounds in the box after topping it off. D.C., a frequent poster and reader of AR180.net, retrieved his Colt model 6920, a semi-automatic version of the Army's M4, chambered in 5.56mm. He had three magazines for it, giving him ninety rounds, and the Aimpoint sight on top would make target acquisition easier while allowing him to keep both eyes open. D.C. had nearly two thousand dollars in the rifle altogether, and since acquiring it had become pretty proficient.
He'd find out just how proficient in the hours to come.
"I got the Chief on the way. He didn't sound too happy when I tried to explain he needed to see this shit himself." said Chambers.
"Hey!" shouted Sanchez. "Here they come!"
Indeed, the upright fiends staggered in a row, filling the bridge slowly but surely. Their immediate number was enough to spread across both lanes, and in the low light the officers couldn't tell how deep the field was. D.C. opened up first, the range of the rifle giving him the advantage of accuracy at a greater distance. The Colt barked, and the 55 grain bullets cracked across the span of the bridge, chewing into softened skulls with cadenced regularity. Sometimes it was enough, and one would fall after a single hit to the head; others didn't quite get into the cranial cavity at the right angle, pitching and yawing in the soft tissues and not doing enough damage to kill the things.
Smitty moved to the right and took up a supported firing position at the bridge abutment, resting his pistol on the concrete barrier. He missed the head shots at that distance more than he hit, and Sanchez knew the shotgun had to wait until the sick horde was much closer. Smitty, Sanchez, and Chambers gathered at the patrol cars and waited as D.C. picked off the critters one by one, the flock of flailing, dying but not dead demons steadily moving forward step by step. In just under four minutes, D.C. was out of ammo for the rifle, and he tossed it in the passenger seat of his patrol car where the barrel seared a hole in the fabric. They were down to pistols and the shotgun, and the horde was undeterred in its progress.
One by one they fell to well-placed shots, the occasional grunt or moan escaping their frothy lips as they pressed forward, only to meet a 230 grain hollowpoint face first. Not every shot was a hit, and not every hit was a kill. When the bridge no longer held a standing zombie, their ammo was almost depleted, a handful of rounds left to each of them.
The Chief came over the radio during the volley, asking if there was an update on the situation. Chambers could only respond with the one thing at the forefront of his mind.
"Goddamn it! They keep coming, and we're running low on ammo!"
June 10, 2004
Thirteen miles east of Sea Island, Georgia
Shaheed winced as the sun beamed off the rolling ocean before him. It did not occur to him that a hat and sunglasses might be of benefit to him and his crew, if for no other reason than to be able to read the GPS display and their wristwatches under the blazing sun. Afal was thinking the same thing, but with Shaheed tasked as organizer and planner for their mission, it was not his place to question the equipment list. In fact, as long as they'd brought the core items required for actions at their objective, all else was useless. None were prepared to live beyond that day, and if by some cruel brush stroke of fate one of them survived the blast, they would surely see Allah on the following morning.
"Is it time, brother?" asked Afal.
He asked the question of his leader not of impatience, but in eagerness for his reward from the Almighty. There was but one God, and Afal Hamsheed was proud to call him Allah, and that day, Allah willing, they would meet. Afal had labored for years in the United States, decades in fact, as a computer engineer in the employ of the Department of Defense, more specifically in the logistics arena. His programs allowed the various branches of the military to keep track of their materiel, from complete aircraft and vehicles to individual weapon parts and uniform items. If one wished to know how many M-16 rifles belonged to a particular National Guard unit, and their corresponding serial numbers, they would use one of Afal's programs to find the unit geographically, or by unit designator, and be able to determine which rifles were transferred to the unit, and when. His programs for keeping inventory were lauded by logisticians, and every time the military went to Congress to make budget requests or allocations, a program designed and implemented by Afal Hamsheed was responsible for the numbers they presented.
Afal tilted his small head and looked to Shaheed, awaiting a response. All three were nervous, but had prepared as best they could. They'd waited over twenty-five years since their cell had been activated. They'd been as careful as they could have been, without a doubt. This day held no significance in the Islamic world of years gone by, but if they were successful, it would lead to their canonization and reverence by clerics around the world. Leaders of the most despised capitalist regimes and, by Allah's will, the leader of the Great Satan himself would be in the open, ripe for destruction at the hands of the prepared few.
"We go now." said Shaheed, throttling the engine to thirty percent. The twenty-three foot Wellcraft surged forward, the stern digging slightly under the power of the two-hundred horsepower outboard motor. Cased for a week, it was stolen the night before, and now carried a cargo of destiny for untold masses.
"Allah be praised. Your route has us at the target in less than thirty minutes. My brothers, may Allah grant us serenity, and our brothers around the world the peace they deserve." said Steve Welsh, the convert.
"Allah be praised." Shaheed echoed.
"Allah be praised." Afal said quietly.
Welsh was the odd man out. A Muslim convert nearly thirty years ago, he'd become enthralled with the Afghan struggle against the Soviet war machine as a young man. During his employment with the Department of Defense as an electrical engineer, his travels and work on projects around the country brought him into contact with Shaheed on more than one occasion, and his shared sympathies earned him trust in what would become a cell operating on U.S. soil, trusted by the government and allowed access to places a more modern convert or guerrilla fighter would envy. His lily white skin burned after spending over two hours under the sun, as they made their way to the release point. It didn't matter, though. He expected to be dead in the next thirty minutes. Welsh hoped his reddish beard would offset the blue eyes he'd inherited, and when he looked upon the face of Allah would be granted solace in a job well done.
Shaheed increased the speed of the vessel to twenty knots, and when the ride did not seem too harsh, to twenty-five. Timing at this point was not so much a pinpoint exercise as much as it was a window. Members of the G-8 summit were to have a photo opportunity, showing themselves walking arm in arm, along the northernmost beach area of Sea Island. Its remoteness lent security, and in the dune areas and edges of privately owned property in the Oak Retreat houses, their security personnel were only seconds away. An attack on the heads of state from land would end in seconds. Anyone not part of a security detail would likely be shot. A suicide jacket would not make sense, as there were undoubtedly a herd of bomb dogs on duty at any time. A machine gun attack was also out of the question, due to the dispersion of marksmen around the perimeter. The Secret Service deployed marksmen everywhere, and most likely the foreign protection details had done the same. Even if one observer/rifle team were located and neutralized, the odds were that another would cut down a firearm attack in seconds. The only logical and realistic approach for an attack would be from the sea, where the Americans had the least security.
"Twenty minutes, now, brothers." Shaheed shouted over the wind and motor noise.
"Shaheed, look, off to the left! A boat!" said Welsh.
Indeed, a boat was approaching them at speed. It was close enough for Shaheed to tell it was silver, and making a run to intercept them. He slowed, confident in his preparations. The boat slowed on its approach, and a loudspeaker hailed them.
"THIS IS THE GEORGIA DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES, ALONG WITH THE UNITED STATES SECRET SERVICE. YOU WILL STOP YOUR VESSEL, AND PREPARE TO BE BOARDED. STOP YOUR ENGINES AND HALT YOUR VESSEL."
"You know what to do, Steve. Remember, Allah watches over us all." said Afal.
The three men stood along the port side with their hands in the air, the engine idling, slowly pushing the boat closer to shore. Steve was the only one required to act at the time, and he'd practiced the drill incessantly by renting boats and shooting balloons in the open ocean.
"PLEASE HAVE IDENTIFICATION READY, AND PREPARE TO BE BOARDED."
As the DNR boat pulled within forty feet, Afal and Shaheed fell to the deck and began to crawl around to the starboard side of the center console, while Steve swung the AK-47 to his shoulder and opened fire, feeding the automatic rifle from a hundred-round twin-spiral magazine. The agents state and federal ducked for cover, much as an aluminum hull would provide, but Steve was not firing directly at them. He raked the twin 150hp motors at the stern until gasoline and engine oil spurted skyward, chewing the engine blocks and transmissions to useless slag. Then he turned his attention to the console of the DNR boat, punching holes in the center of it where he knew the radio was mounted. The steady rate of fire, which he kept up in three to five round bursts, lasted more than a minute with no return fire. When the DNR agents and Secret Service man figured out that their assailant was not firing directly at them, they heaved over their own port side and clung fast, keeping as much boat as possible between them and the machine gun.
"Now, Shaheed, now!" shouted Steve, when he was satisfied with his work.
Shaheed resumed his position at the helm, and pinned the throttle wide open. They'd lost a few precious minutes in the contact with law enforcement, but by the element of surprise and overwhelming firepower had gained it back. He took the heading of two-hundred seventy and braced himself against the low swells.
In the disabled DNR vessel, three men regained their footing around the center console. The Secret Service agent tried his radio, but to no avail, as did the state agents. Salt water had invaded the battery contacts and rendered them silent. Ron Harold, the senior state man, reached into his gear bag and retrieved his spare comm unit.
"This is DNR 1880 to any unit on this frequency, come back." he said.
"Go ahead, 1880."
"We've been attacked, approximately twelve miles due east of Sea Island. Suspect vessel is a white and blue Wellcraft, about a twenty-footer. They're armed with an automatic rifle. Looked to be two Middle Eastern males and one white male, making their best speed to the island. We're dead in the water, y'all."
"Is anyone injured?"
"We're fine, just wet. You better get someone to stop that boat." Harold added.
Seconds later, he heard the whine of rotor blades in the distance. An orange speck to the east turned towards the coast and became a bubble of orange and white. The HH-65 Dauphin screamed overhead, bearing on the same azimuth as the suspect vessel.
"Message received, 1880. Coast Guard is en route to intercept. Hold your position, 1880, a team will be en route to you shortly."
"Oh, shit." Ron said, seeing an appendage hanging out the starboard door of the Dauphin.
In less than ninety seconds, the Dauphin came alongside the Wellcraft, hailing it on loudspeaker.
"STOP YOUR VESSEL OR YOU WILL BE FIRED UPON. THIS IS YOUR ONLY WARNING."
The Dauphin matched the boat's speed, keeping its position about thirty degrees off the port side, a scant hundred yards away. The verbal warning was met with harassing fire from Steve's AK-47, a few rounds of which struck the Dauphin and pissed off the pilot. The man in the starboard door needed no prodding. Petty Officer 3rd Class Jeremiah Hickox first pressed the button on his left, then the button on his right.
A spray of 7.62mm ball rounds issued forth from the M134 electric machine gun like a demon vomiting death at first, and as Hickox depressed the actuator to the right, the rate of fire increased from 3000 rounds per minute to 6000. His aim was true, and his demeanor was no different from any firing range he'd been to in the Coast Guard. His orders were clear: Heads of state are walking around on the beach. Any overt threat was to be met with an overwhelming use of force. He didn't take his orders lightly.
The 150 grain projectiles pierced the fiberglass hull like paper, allowing spurts of seawater to begin filling the boat. The amount of ammunition in the magazine permitted a continuous fusillade of bullets, shredding the boat and its occupants, who flopped to the deck with multiple gunshot wounds. Afal, the most devout of the attackers, held in his hand the light of the future, a dead man switch rigged to detonate the plastic explosive fastened to the cylinder. He held it as long as he could, but two of the chain gun's rounds had found his chest cavity, one ricocheting after burrowing through his spine and plastering his pericardial sac against his left lung. Less than ten seconds into the barrage, Afal released the switch as his life seeped out into the growing pool of salty brine infiltrating the Wellcraft.
Hickox let off the trigger when he saw the explosion, thinking to himself that nothing could have survived the minigun and the detonation. They'd taken a few random shots from the AK, and the pilot was getting a warning from his instrument panel to verify the sluggish feel in the pedals. It was time to call it in and ground the bird. They radioed their action to the Secret Service and up their chain of command, and made for the closest cutter to set down. Hickox threw in a pinch of Copenhagen, and wished the men on the boat a happy journey.
As the Wellcraft sank, it followed a metal cylinder, perhaps three feet long and a foot thick. It held inside a fluid, contained in yet another armored cylinder, but there was no air inside to keep it buoyant. The canister reached the sea floor long before the hull and assorted other components, its weight gouging into the sand halfway. In the next few days, the Navy would send dive teams to recover bodies and wreckage, but the north/south running tide covered the canister, and since the bodies were identifiable and most of the debris secured, the investigation was deemed complete. Statements were issued to the press about a Coast Guard exercise, and the summit continued as planned.
A simple, boat-borne terrorist attack on the world's leaders had been averted by a prepared DNR agent and a dead-eyed door gunner. If the Navy had only discovered the cylinder, the attack would have ended there.
Suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia
If someone had the time or inclination to poll, scientifically, the members of AR180.net, and determine whether they spent more time surfing the gun site or porn, the gun site would probably come out ahead. After checking the General Discussion forum and finding nothing new of interest had been posted since he left the office, the member known as DKing returned to his stack of appointed cases that were due in arraignment proceedings the next morning. He more than slightly distrustful of government in general, and had such conviction in the belief that everyone was entitled to the best possible defense that he devoted a disproportionate amount of time to the public defender's office. There were weeks when the public defender's work interfered with his private practice, but DKing saw a noble effort in it. He didn't wear it on his sleeve, or do it for a pat on the back, or even cookies, but the satisfaction he took home with him each night was a core element of his persona.
Though, he would have appreciated cookies.
DKing looked at the jacket containing the police reports and charging documents for a man named David Sophomore, who would soon be arraigned on his second charge of domestic battery against his wife. DKing was familiar with the Sophomore family, more importantly the missus, and was pretty sure she'd been the primary aggressor during the latest bout. His only problem was how to show later, in court, how Mrs. Sophomore had been able to convince the police that David beat her senseless without even a high school drama club to her acting credit. Somehow, the attorney would manage. He always did.
A hairy beast sidled up next to DKing's leg, beneath his desk in the upstairs home office. He shifted a wisp of thinning, dark hair from behind his glasses and looked down at the apparition that had sneaked in undetected, while he was putting together pieces of the Sophomore case. Reaching down, he scratched the underside of the Corgi's neck and tousled its mane, smiling at the dog and returning some of the incalculable but very tangible unconditional devotion. He dropped a small biscuit that didn't even make it to the carpet, snatched from gravity by the alert dog.
His aging office chair groaned in protest of his weight, probably more telling of its years of service than DKing's stature. He was less than portly, but he'd never been accused of malnourishing himself, and for a rounded-off specimen, he could move smartly when the climate demanded. Turning back to his desktop for a moment, he'd just clicked the tab for the Hometown section when his cell phone chirped to life. It was a little late for the usual client to call, and most of his clients knew it was more respectable to wait for business hours unless it was an emergency. He checked the caller ID, and didn't recognize the number.
"Hello?" he opened.
"DKing? That you?" asked a male voice.
"Who's this? Anyone who knows me by that name is already in my phone. How did you get this number? If you got it off the AR180.net server, your account will be locked in about five minutes. After that, I can't even tell you what else to expect from me."
"It was given to me by an employer. Are you near your computer?"
"Yes, but what's this about? Who are you?" he demanded.
"You've seen me on the site with the screen name 'Hickey.' My real name is Jeremiah Hickox. Right now, though, I just need you to look at the top thread in the Hometown forum."
Since he'd already opened the tab, DKing drew a bead on the top title. Clicking on the thread, he blinked his eyes once and prepared to become the unwelcome butt of what looked to be a practical joke. It wouldn't be the first time, and he could be a good sport, but it was a little late in the evening for stupid jokes.
"Okay, I'm there. What about it?" he asked, hoping to catch a glint of the setup.
"Do you remember a few years back, when a man sent you an email asking if you'd volunteer in the event of an emergency? An ex-Navy Seal, complete with C.V.? The body of the email plainly spelled out the use of your services would be compensated, and called on only in the event the government was unlikely to contain a particular situation. Remember anything like that? A few weeks later you received a thumb drive in the mail, with instructions to put the drive in your computer if contacted for an event. Do you still have the thumb drive?" Hickey asked.
He did in fact have the drive, sitting near the back of the top shelf in his safe.
"As soon as you hang up with me, plug the drive in and follow the instructions it retrieves from the secure server. My contact information is in there, and it looks like I'm the point man for now, because geographically I'm the closest. I'm calling you first because Dixie put you at the top of the list." Hickey continued, "This is the thing so many site members have prepared for. Take it as a joke, or take it serious, it doesn't matter to me. I'm going. I'll have my cell if you need to get a hold of me. Hope to see you there in a few hours, DKing."
The connection broke from the other end, leaving DKing with a foreboding sense of apprehension. He remembered the email from years back, looking up independent links to the man named Dixie, a retired Naval Special Warfare guru with a dozen combat deployments under his belt and two full generations of SEALS trained before he left the service. It seemed like a hokey attempt at organizing a militia, but since he'd received the thumb drive, there had been no contact from whatever the organization was.
He padded downstairs to the spare room where the safe held their most valuable items; guns, his and hers, jewelry and important papers, and the thumb drive. His wife passed the door in the hallway and peeked in.
"Whatcha looking for?" she asked.
"Oh, some thumb drive I was keeping in here. Got it a few years ago, supposed to have something important on it for a client." he said. The device had slid behind a stack of magazines for an enormous Israeli semi-automatic, but he found it.
"That call, you have to go somewhere?"
"I hope not. Might be a prank. This hour of the night, it better be a damn good one."
Upstairs, DKing plugged the small memory device into the slot on his machine. An hourglass appeared, and about ten seconds later a window, a non-Microsoft window, opened and asked for a password. His head had been filled with so many names, cases, firearm facts, and other trivia for so many years it was a small miracle the word CANNONBALL materialized at the front of his cortex. Another hourglass formed in front of the simple gray dialog box, framed in black, and suddenly the screen filled with data. Saint Simons Island. Transcripts of radio traffic from the Sterling Police Department. Turn by turn directions to an intersection on the island. Instructions to bring no less than two firearms and as much ammunition as was on hand, and to rendezvous with Jeremiah Hickox as soon as possible. A note near the bottom read, ‘Dixie and company en route, Hickox to update as information comes available.’
He read the transcripts, and what little was spoken regarding the situation on Saint Simons did not sound encouraging. DKing couldn't imagine what could possibly be happening to require help, or the marshaling of private citizens, that couldn't be taken care of by the several local police agencies in the area. It was more than a three hour drive from his home in the suburbs of Atlanta, and if it were a joke, it would be localized. No one screwing with DKing would dare send him that far out of the way for a blooper. It just wasn't done. He made the decision.
"Honey?" he called out.
Thirty-five minutes later he was in the eight-year-old Ford Explorer, keeping to fifteen miles over the limit. If he were stopped, the delay would cost more than he would make up by driving faster. DKing devoted all of twenty seconds on the thought of having to explain the hardware behind the driver's seat; most citizens didn't jog down the highway with an Uzi and a Smith and Wesson .500, and several hundred rounds of ammunition. There were others in the safe which would have served the purposes, but these two weapons were his favored babies, and deserved the chance to prove themselves. A barrister of his skill would not allow a search of the vehicle to reveal the guns, so there was nothing for him to contemplate but the chance of being singled out by a bored deputy or trooper.
He had little trouble explaining to the wife how he was needed by a client in southeast Georgia, and just had to take a few guns and a few rounds of ammunition along, too. She was a little distressed at the last minute proceedings, knowing he was expected in court the next morning, but for their many years together the trust was concrete and if he had to go, he had to go. She wished him luck and told him to drive safe before kissing him goodbye, even patting him on the rump as he walked to the truck. He was already missing her, and hoping that whatever it was would be over soon. She needed him, his clients needed him, and even the Corgi would show signs of depression if he was gone more than a day.
Whatever was brewing on Saint Simons had better be serious. DKing was already formulating a plan on what to do if it wasn't.
Welcome to the Party, Chief!
The chief of the Sterling Police Department was just beginning to see the edges of a dream when the small, black device on his nightstand began screaming for attention. Normally, being awakened from sleep did not bother Chief George Timbes, but he'd had a long day shaking hands around a community function on Blythe Island to bless the new dock. Following that had been an ad hoc meeting with the County Commissioners sitting on the emergency appropriation panel, who'd decided at the last minute to cut his overtime budget mid-season, citing a drainage problem on Saint Simons Island which had to be addressed due to the large number of complaints from island residents.
The alphanumeric pager went silent as he picked it up and depressed the big button near the edge, and its screen illuminated. It read:
CALL SGT. CHAMBERS ON CELL ASAP, RE: SHOTS FIRED ON SEA ISLAND.
Timbes went bolt upright immediately. Shots fired? On Sea Island? Who in the wide blue fuck was trading bullets with one of his officers on, of all places, Sea Island, Georgia? He reached to the charging stand where his portable radio stood and turned it on, trying to gather anything useful while he composed himself and found Chambers' number in his cell phone.
"Quickly and succinctly, Sergeant, let me have it." said the chief.
"Boss, I don't know how to put this, but D.C. and Smitty and a couple ambulance drivers just killed a few people over here on Sea Island. It's not what you think--"
"What!" shouted Timbes, waking his wife. He glanced at her, made a face, and decided she could be pissed at him later.
"Now listen, Chief, it's like I said: It's not what you think. Before we do anything else, I really think you need to get over here and see what we've got, and it'd be even better if you got here before any media."
"Have you at least got the scene secure? Have you notified CID?"
"It's not what you think, Chief." said Chambers, his voice squirreling, alerting the top cop.
"Okay, okay. I'm on the way in five. I don't have much choice but to go with your judgment for now, but it better be locked down tighter than Dick's hat band by the time I get there. You hear me, Sergeant?"
"Yes, sir. Trust me, when you get here, you'll see."
"And by the way, where's your lieutenant?"
"He's at the hospital, checking on John Duncan. Duncan had half his neck bit off by one of the, the things. Looks like he'll be alright, though."
"Fine." said the chief, collapsing the phone.
He dressed, strapping on the compact Glock .45 and a belt-clip badge for identification. In the driveway, he let the engine warm up for a moment while he broke out the blue windbreaker, stenciled with the department's logo and his title on the left breast for good measure. While he drove to the land of multimillion-dollar estates and five-star dining, the police band seemed eerily quiet, given the sergeant's report of an officer-involved shooting. It was the diametric opposition to fingernails on the chalkboard to a police manager in search of any possible update on a department's highest liability action. He lifted the mic from its cradle.
"1000 to Chambers." he said.
"Chambers, go ahead Chief!" came the reply, a staccato of cracks and pops in the background.
"What's your status, Chambers?"
"Goddamn it! They won't stop coming, and we're running low on ammo!"
Chief Timbes had been a policeman in Sterling his entire career. Shootouts, car chases, and high profile incidents happened in Glynn County, but not on the scale of say, Detroit, Los Angeles, or Jacksonville. They did happen often enough for him to recognize actual gunfire over a radio channel, and a man's voice two octaves higher than normal. He put the accelerator to the floor.
Traffic was light enough there was little use for emergency lights, so he ran without them. As he slowed for the light at Darien Highway and Gloucester Street, he noticed a full-size truck had been tailing him at his best speed. Usually, he'd conduct a traffic stop and at least interview the driver before chastising or citing him, but tonight it wasn't on the board. He stopped for the few seconds it took to make sure no one was coming, and Timbes blew the light, wondering why the truck behind him did the same thing. Punching the Crown Vic's engine as hard as it would go, a possible explanation for the tail was an off-duty officer who somehow had knowledge of the incident and wanted to help. Fine. Timbes could put him to work when they got to the scene.
The agency head wound his way around the traffic loop at the terminus of the F.J. Torras Causeway, and again only paused during his pass under the light at Demere Road. He punched it again on Sea Island Road, the direct path to Sea Island itself, still wondering who the hell was on his tail. He couldn't know every officer's personal vehicle, though it sure resembled one of his lieutenant's trucks as it passed under the street lamps behind him. In another three minutes he was at the main gate, drawing up behind the patrol cars, parked in a wedge at the west end of the bridge.
Chief Timbes failed to notice that the pickup behind him had suddenly disappeared.
"Chambers, there had better be some goddamn explaining going on, and right fucking now." said Timbes.
"Come take a look, Chief." the sergeant said, beckoning his boss with a wave. "D.C., move up with us just in case."
Timbes' curiosity was piqued, but as they neared the pile of bodies, stones fell in his heart at the sight of the carnage his officers had inflicted. Unarmed and sickly looking, he counted at least forty corpses strewn across the cobblestones.
"Chief, now, before you go and jump to conclusions, you need to look closer at 'em. They ain't normal. Not a one of 'em." said Chambers, gesturing with his Glock. He pulled a compact but powerful flashlight from his belt, and lit up one of the headless carcasses. "You ever see human brains that look like that? Look at the skin, the eyes on that one, and the mouth on this one here."
Chambers shifted the beam from body to body, giving the ten cent tour.
"What are you trying to tell me, Warren?"
"They're," he stammered, "we think they're--"
"Fucking zombies, Chief." said D.C., emotionless. Of all the feelings he'd developed in his life, fear, anger, resentment, love, joy, relief, none of it seemed appropriate.
"Wait, what? D.C., did you just say what I think you just said? Zombies?" asked the man.
"Get the hell out of here, and go back to your car. Now!" screamed Timbes, his face reddening under the yellow street lamps.
D.C. turned without a sound, and began walking slowly but deliberately the way he'd come.
"Now, Chambers, I don't want to hear what these other assholes have been filling your head with, I want to know what the fuck is happening."
Chambers put the flashlight back into its holster, and rubbed his chin with his off hand, trying to put the words together in a way that would draw the least ire from his boss.
"I didn't want to really entertain the thought either, Chief, but--"
"But what? Are you seriously telling me these people are--"
"FUCKING ZOMBIES, CHIEF!" D.C. shouted, yards behind the chief.
Anger, pulse by pulse, filled Chief Timbes and rose, bubbling forth in the hot spittle that flew from his lips as he launched into a tirade to end all tirades. Chambers subconsciously backed off a couple steps, his instincts sparing him the cottonmouth-laced blobs of saliva. When he was done, the chief huffed air from his nostrils, trying to give the appearance he'd returned to calm. Chambers knew better.
It was the chief's turn to believe.
A shadow wallowed from the east, passing under a street lamp at a leisurely pace that was skewed, leaving one foot to drag constantly. The sergeant noticed it first, his heightened awareness extending the normal range at which he picked up movement. He raised his pistol and took aim.
"What are you doing, Warren?" asked the chief. He stepped forward a few paces toward the stranger and said, "Sir! I need you to back away. This is a crime scene."
The potted meat on legs paid the highest-earning officer in the county no more mind than folks gave a rat's fart, and kept walking.
"Now listen, sir, I don't know who you're used to dealing with around here, but in case you can't read the jacket it says 'Chief' on it. If you don't turn around and walk the other way, I'll have the sergeant arrest you. Turn around and walk away! Now!" he hollered, still to no effect.
When the bipedal slug was within twenty yards, Chambers began a tactical retreat for the vehicles, drawing the creature to a position he knew would end its extra life. Realizing the sergeant was behind him and moving, but still pointing a firearm in his general direction, Chief Timbes quickly jogged to catch up with his subordinate.
"Well, what are you waiting for, Warren? Holster that pistol and let's arrest this clown."
Sergeant Warren Chambers suddenly recalled an oft repeated fact: He had enough years with the county to retire, and there was a job waiting for him at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center. With his left hand, he reached to the back of his gun belt and pulled out a pair of stainless steel handcuffs, and held them out for the chief.
"Here you go, boss. I'll keep him covered while you slap 'em on. Let me know how it works out for you."
Put out by the request, the chief balked long enough to yelp at Chambers, taking the sergeant's attention off the zombie. In the two ridiculously lazy seconds that followed, the monster made a desperate lunge for a late night snack, making enough sound to call Chambers' focus back to where it should have been. It made it to within twenty feet, lurching and stumbling; Chambers knew the moving target would be a risky shot in the low light, with its up-and-down and circular motion. Changing from his squared off firing stance, he switched to a classic martial arts crouch and let fly with all the front kick he could muster, sending the demon tumbling to its butt. It sat there long enough for him to approach to an arm's length and drill a .45 caliber hole between its pus- and rot-filled nostrils. When he was done he turned to the chief, who stood there glaring at the twice cooked death on the cobblestones, breathing on the edge of hyperventilation.
"You still want to handcuff this dude, Chief?" he asked.
Timbes had no words. He looked at the corpse and shook his head, unbelieving at the brown, chunky Jell-O creeping from the back of the skull, the dull gray leather stretched around the face like a wet mummy waiting for the afterlife. He mumbled something to the sergeant, and for what he'd later swear was the hundredth time that night, he heard a junior officer yell, "Fucking zombies, Chief!"
Hickey stood in the lee of the elegantly shaved bushes that separated the two entrance lanes to Sea Island. Light from the guard shack cast a heavy shadow across the outside lane of cobblestones, and it had been easy enough to skirt the two firefighters at the shack and stay in the shallow line of woods to the south. He'd seen the episode involving the chief and the sergeant. He'd seen the creature refuse all verbal commands and lunge at the big line supervisor, and a series of Hollywood flashbacks rolled through his mind. Hickey slinked like a cat back to the wooded area, and routed back to his truck, lifting his cell out through the open window. He dialed the number for Dixie.
"Go ahead." said the salty old man. In the background, storm of turboprop wash threatened to drown the conversation.
"I've made it to the scene, and I'm almost at a loss for words. How did you know it was this bad?"
"I might be able to tell you later, Hickey, but for now you can advise any incoming personnel that we should be on the tarmac in Brunswick in less than two hours. Once we touch down, I expect to be on Saint Simons in forty five minutes. How many confirmations do you have?"
Hickey consulted the little spiral notebook he'd been using and told Dixie he had five people on the way.
"Good," said Dixie, "just have them rally at the closest convenient area that has lanes of approach that can be easily covered. Use your head, coastie. We'll see you in a few hours."
Dixie ended the call as the noise from the aircraft began to swell, leaving Hickey alone in the dark where he didn't feel all that safe. What the hell had he seen on the bridge? What were those things? Were they zombies, like the blond-haired younger officer said? He was damned if he was going near those officers for the time being, seeing them waste whatever pus bag on legs came walking near. Better they discover him, and let them set the tempo for the contact.
He started his truck and turned around on the Sea Island Causeway, running without lights. When he reached the intersection at Frederica Road, the Shops at Sea Island parking lot stuck out as a good, open place to wait where he could keep an eye out all the way around while his comrades-in-keyboard arrived. The five members who'd sent him text messages confirming their status should have been well on their way, he thought, and as he tossed the notebook back to the passenger seat his cell phone vibrated, indicating a call.
"DaveyJones, checking in. I'm about to make the merge onto I-95 south outside Savannah, maybe an hour and a half out. Have you set up a rally point yet?"
"Yeah. I think it's called the Shops at Sea Island, there's a Harris Teeter here. I'll send everyone on the list a Google map for it, should be easy to find on one of the main roads here."
"I've been down there on vacation a couple times, I remember where it's at."
There was a pause. Hickey could hear a song playing softly in the background.
No more will my green sea go turn a deeper blue
I could not foresee this thing happening to you...
"I'm in a green Chevy truck, you'll recognize the sticker on the back window." Hickey said.
"Alright. Be there in a bit." said the man.
DaveyJonesLockerUSN, or DaveyJones, or Davey, continued the curve in the merge lane as he rounded onto Interstate 95 South, bearing down on Brunswick and the Golden Isles. Passing under a few lamps, he glanced over at the Kalashnikov in the passenger seat, with a thigh holster containing the Glock 19 curled up beneath it. At the range, he could send every 5.45mm round in the rifle's magazine into a head-sized target at a hundred yards; it was plenty accurate for the situation. The Glock 9mm would be great for close-up work, easily accessible from the tactical platform. His days in the Navy included more than a few "readiness exercises" and accompanying the experience of having to drop what he was doing for the benefit of others. Davey hoped, as he checked the side mirror, that what training he had would be enough.
Much further south on Interstate 95, angryguns was pushing eighty miles an hour as he approached the Camden/Glynn County line. He noticed a pair of headlights dancing behind him and gaining quickly, its headlamp arrangement somehow familiar. Above the headlights, centered in the windshield, angryguns could see a tiny green light in his side view mirror, fleeting as it was when the Dodge Charger overtook him at a hundred forty miles an hour. His car rocked from the air disturbance, and he thought the trooper was probably on the way to Saint Simons. Guns took the trooper's passing as a sign of relaxed traffic enforcement, and pinned the accelerator of his 5.0 liter Fox body Ford Mustang, refusing to let the Charger's tail lights disappear. The Mustang was a tight fit for the sailor with a shaved head; at six-foot-one and two hundred thirty pounds he didn't fit the narrow driver's space quite like a hand in a glove, but the sense of being pinned in caused him to imagine piloting a fighter aircraft. The Mustang sported a Roush package, and in the world of passenger cars it might have well been the fighter craft of road machines, and it showed little, if any strain keeping up with the Charger. Guns followed the trooper as he veered right onto the exit ramp near mile post 29, and tried to avoid leaving twin acceleration marks on Georgia Highway 520 while catching the trooper's blue and silver excuse for a cop car.
Georgia Hometown Forum member Oscar chucked his gear into the late model Dodge Durango. There was plenty of room for the AR10, chambered in 7.62x51 NATO, and his Sig Sauer P220 in .45ACP rode in a custom Kydex holster at his hip, openly displayed. If things were that bad, and regular citizens were being called up to help support the police, there was little worry of being hassled. Oscar was of average height and a bit on the portly side, and appreciated the room offered by the full size SUV. It was even big enough to contain his massive beard, a point of pride for Oscar for years. Stunning in its enormity, it entranced lesser men with sheer volume and trimmed, healthy shine that caught the moon's glow and radiated its greenish hue into the mass of man fur around his cherubic frontage that night. Screaming along Interstate 16, Oscar felt particularly bad for exceeding the speed limit, but if the Saint Simons Island fandango turned out to be a lot of fun, he'd gladly count a speeding ticket as the price of admission.
Another member, bgcoop8784, had the cruise control set at seventy-eight miles per hour, which allowed Oscar a two mile an hour creeping lead on him. Coop was glad his late nineties Chevy truck had the speed control feature, so he could concentrate on the road and people around him, though nearing an hour past midnight there was little traffic on I-16 other than tractor-trailers and eager tourists headed for Savannah and points south. Refusing to trust his armament to the truck's bed in the event of a crash or encounter with police, his pre-conglomerate Bushmaster AR15 rode on the floorboard encased in a nylon bag that held six magazines in exterior pouches. He had another ten magazines topped off with military ball ammunition in a vest carrier bundled up inside a small duffel bag that also held his Smith & Wesson .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol. The handgun also rode in the carrier in a cross draw fashion, and he was glad he'd spent enough time on the range to be confident with the setup. Those trips to the impromptu range near the outskirts of Perry, Georgia would pay off soon enough. At least he had company for the ride; Virgo lapped saliva along the passenger window sill as his tongue flapped from the side of his basketball-sized, sandy-colored head. Pit bulls could be funny creatures.
Strycnine and company
Atticus was making everyone nervous, like a steroid user with a slight crack problem on your couch during dinner. His sleek, rippling body reflected bits and bands of light that filtered in through the back of Strycnine's M32A2 military surplus truck as the tarp swung in the breeze. Atticus was last weighed at 67 pounds, but to the men between whom he walked he looked like Satan's lapdog. After the initial roundup at Strycnine’s home, about two hours after the first notification by the Group, they'd set out from Newnan on I-75 and stopped in Macon to top off the fuel tank. A Macon police cruiser rolled through the parking lot at the gas station, and the officer inside glanced only casually at the men he could see through the back flap of the rubberized cloth they'd flipped up for the stop. The officer answered his cell phone and drove away.
Strycnine drove the old military truck and had 00leland00, or Leland, riding shotgun. Their weapons were in the rear, safe with the rest of their human cargo. Strycnine's rifle was a custom affair, an AR15 chambered in .300 Blackout, and capped off with a silencer for good measure and true hearing safe performance. Over the years, he'd steadily built up a stock of ammunition for it, which had to be assembled in one-off runs of a couple hundred rounds at a time by a neighbor who reloaded ammo as a hobby. It wasn't cheap. Leland's Daniel Defense rifle in 5.56mm, and Glock .40 caliber pistol were in a range bag near the front of the bed, piled in ahead of the others' loads. If stopped by the police, they planned to tell the story of a bachelor party in progress, with Strycnine and Leland as designated drivers. They'd even enlisted Kap_x (Kap) and justwoody1 (Woody) to have bourbon on the breath if necessary.
Since their top speed was fifty-five going downhill, they weren't likely to be stopped for speeding anyway.
Kap and Woody sat at the rear of the bed, and as they merged back onto I-75 south from Riverside Drive, they tied the rear flap in the up position. Even at night, middle and south Georgia were cloaked in the musky, wet warmth that always reminded you that the day's heat might be gone but you were far from comfortable. Below their rudimentary bench seats lay their weapons; AR15's with holographic and dot sights. Woody's Springfield 1911 .45ACP was tucked temporarily in the back of his pants while he made adjustments to his gun belt, and Kap's CZ75 was snug in its brown leather holster, covered by his tropical print shirt. He had a tactical gun belt as well, but it was already set to go like everyone else. Kap couldn't figure why, but Atticus seemed to linger and stare at him for a few seconds every time he made the rounds. He'd had steak earlier in the evening, and perhaps the Doberman smelled beef. He hoped it wasn't his beef Atticus was interested in.
Further into the bed were M4-Stag (Stag) and WLPITBULL (Pit). Stag's M4/M203 combination lay directly on the metal of the bed while he absentmindedly honed the tomahawk with a stone, careful to sharpen against the edge but keeping his fingers intact. Pit asked him why he didn't have a handgun as a backup weapon.
"I just didn't think to bring one. Hell, if it's bad over there I'll just pick one up."
"I guess you're right." said Pit.
"Where's your pea shooter, seeing how you're so concerned with what everyone else brought to the party?"
Pit unzipped a long rifle case to reveal the FAL 7.62mm semi-auto, and a slew of magazines. Then he held up the Witness Hunter chambered in 10 millimeter, flipping it over and handing it to Stag.
"Okay, so you're not exactly toting pea shooters. This thing feels like a damn cannon." Stag commented, noting the weight of the pistol. If Pit used a particularly hot load in it, the capability to literally explode a zombie's head with a single pistol shot was achievable. He handed it back, asking, "What else you got?"
"Kukri. Like your 'hawk, it don't run out of ammo unless my arm falls off."
"Let's hope we don't get that fucked up, now." said Stag, uncapping the fifth of Jim Beam. He took a quick bolt, put the cap back on, and passed it to Kap, who partook of it as well.
Atticus decided to halt the pacing routine, having determined his master Mutki was in no danger from the men. He planted his haunches at Mutki's feet, in front of the AR that sported the .50 Beowulf magazine. Twin Glock 19 pistols were twisted together on a tactical belt which Atticus sniffed from time to time, going back and forth between Mutki's biscuit- and Beggin' Strips-flavored hands and the firearms. If his neighbors knew where Atticus came from, they'd have probably turned Mutki in to the BATFE for possessing a destructive device.
Back at the Shops at Sea Island, Smitty and D.C. rolled into the parking lot to find the forest green Chevy parked under one of the lamps. Smitty drove in a circle around it, looking for a clue in one of several forms. He saw it. On the back window was a white vinyl sticker, half of which depicted a bolt face of the AR15, the other half resembling the ass end of a fawn, together representing the Georgia Hometown Forum at the AR180.net site. Whoever sat in the truck had to be the first to respond.
Smitty wheeled around, and parked nose to nose with the Chevy. He got out and walked behind his own car, waving to D.C., who parked several rows over. A white man with a crew cut emerged from the truck, his arms tight inside the dark blue polo shirt that was a little too small.
"Can I help you, Officer?" he asked.
"How long did it take you to get here?"
"Not long. I live in Brunswick. Is there something going on here I need to know about?"
Smitty unlocked his passenger door and swung the computer monitor so the man could see. He looked at the screen, and back to Smitty.
"That's your post?"
"Yep. What's your screen name?" Smitty asked. The man began to reply by saying his real name, but Smitty interrupted. "No real names. Just your screen name or an abbreviation of it. I'm not real sure how the chief is gonna act when he finds out I asked for outside help."
"Call me Hickey. I caught the tail end of what happened on the bridge over there. It looks more serious than I had pictured in my head. You really think your boss is gonna refuse help at a time like this?"
"It wouldn't surprise me one bit." Smitty said. "Matter of fact, here he comes now."
The chief's unmarked Crown Vic squealed as it arced into the lot. The look on his face was one D.C. and Smitty had never seen, but they knew it wasn't good.
He set the knobby, white plastic controller on the coffee table in front of him and cursed.
The word was only slightly garbled, because Gamer001 was not born deaf. A pool accident in his seventh year on this earth took his gift of interpreting sound, so there was a good deal he could say correctly. Over the years, he'd developed an excellent ability to read lips but chose to make most of his interaction with humans online. With a keyboard and succinct command of English, he was able to convey his thoughts clearly, without the barrier of sound to impede him. Gamer walked to the corner desk in his immaculate living room and sat behind his computer, bringing up a live chat box to discuss the game he'd just finished.
Player: You're out of practice, Gamer.
Gamer: No, I am not.
Player: You never pass that hallway with your back turned to the short end of it, especially playing one-on-one. Why tonight?
Gamer: I don't know. I was probably in a hurry. It happened eight minutes ago. I can't remember everything.
Player: Okay, okay, I'm just breaking balls. I gotta work on a paper for a while before I go to bed, and I've got school tomorrow. See you later.
Gamer closed the dialog box and opened the internet browser, scrolling down his favorites list to AR180.net. The home page was the same; it scrolled banners for the site sponsors along the top, next to the site logo; there was a news section running down the middle that was unchanged from earlier in the day; site videos and special merchandise were advertised lower on the page and along the sides. He clicked on the Hometown Forums tab, and pulled up Georgia to discover the top thread was only thirty minutes old and had already reached fifteen pages in length. It had to be some kind of record.
He scrolled down through the thread, past the link for the police band download. He couldn't hear it anyway. The responses to the original post varied from "Holy shit!" to "Bullshit." Gamer skipped to the last page where there was only one response: ADMIN MESSAGE=THIS THREAD IS LOCKED. NO FURTHER INQUIRIES. HTF MEMBERS PARTICIPATING WILL BE NOTIFIED. THIS THREAD WILL BE DELETED FROM MAINFRAME AT 0001 HOURS.
An icon flashed to life near the bottom of his screen, prompting him to click it. A dialog box opened, gray with a black border, and told him to insert a thumb drive. His was taped to the underside of the desk, where he ripped it free and plugged it into the side of the computer. An hourglass appeared, turned over several times while the connection was made, and then the instructions appeared. Gamer perused the screen, reading the transcripts of police chatter in Glynn County. The Group had summoned him. He would respond.
Twenty-three years old, five foot four inches tall, he padded his thin body to the master bedroom of his two-story home. He paused for a moment in the hallway mirror to look at his pasty white face, the result of little time spent out of doors, and imagined his complexion would be of little concern to anyone he'd meet in the next few hours. He regularly trimmed his black hair at home with a number three guard, disliking the barber shop where he could feel everyone talking but not hear them. Clean shaven, wiry muscles, and a proportionate but slight build meant he could blend in almost anywhere, which was good since he was quite poor at communicating with people who didn't know he was deaf. There was, however, a benefit to his disability: Gamer never had to wear earplugs on the range.
In the enormous walk in closet he pulled on a pair of 5.11 brand pants (they actually were pretty good pants, after all,) a pair of Merrell hikers, and a custom shirt from Crye Precision. Crye and 5.11 both sponsored Gamer in what had become his first love; 3-gun competition eclipsed his professional video game career three years before, and complimented his lifestyle nicely. After dressing, he trotted to the garage where the arsenal awaited his biometrics.
Noveske rifles were constantly in demand by the shooting public, but Gamer was not the shooting public. He owned six of them in varying configurations, and selected one with a short barrel and silencer for the situation alluded to in the encrypted message. Atop the rail system was a new generation Eotech holographic sight coupled with a four-power magnifier. Gamer had put so many rounds through his weapons that each and every one of them had malfunctioned at least once. The Glocks, Sig Sauers, H&K pistols, and every flavor of the venerable 1911, and all but one of his semi-auto rifles had failed to go bang at a squeeze of the trigger. Sometimes it was bad ammunition. Others were caused by worn springs and internal parts. The short-barrelled, silenced weapon in his hands was the only firearm to never fail him at the range or during competition, and it would ride with Gamer to Saint Simons Island. He pulled a custom vest from one of the outside hooks and stuffed it full of aluminum magazines, twelve in all, and pushed a Rock Island Armory .45 into a shoulder rig attached to the vest. Statistically it gave him fewer problems at the range than his higher end pistols, even though it had none of the upgrades such as modern sights, springs, bushings, or match grade barrel. He also very much liked it for its simplicity, and the instinct and training required to hit accurately anything further than seven yards.
Gamer bundled the weapons and ammunition into a green duffel bag, and loaded them into the trunk of his Honda Civic. He'd nearly forgotten his most important piece of kit, and he jogged back into the garage and scooped it off the work bench, dropping the small, earmuff-shaped device into a cargo pocket. His other, more expensive vehicles would stay in the garage. He kept the Honda for its nondescript appearance, and he thought he much resembled a college student riding in it. Away from home, away from the online communities of computer games and AR180.net, low profile was the way to go. He left Bainbridge, Georgia for the long drive to Saint Simons, chewing on a stick of gum to help pass the time.
Gamer001 was as trained as he could be for real life shooting scenarios, both mentally and physically. An online video game sensation who'd made millions while literally sitting at a game console, he'd invested a sizeable chunk of those dollars into his private indoor range facility, where he had two hundred yards by two hundred yards of playing room to fire any weapon at any angle with no range safety officer. It was quite possibly the country's most elaborate and expensive indoor range. Soon, Gamer would find out whether all his investments of time and money were worth what he gave them.
At the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia there was controlled chaos near the loading dock. A large van and a mobile command center, both wearing nondescript, white paint and markings that identified them as storm chasers, were being stuffed with several weeks’ worth of food, water, and operating gear for a biohazard evaluation team. Rebecca Collins commanded from a desk mounted near the front of the MCC, and occasionally barked orders and verified certain equipment was on board. Frenzied technicians lugged a portable gas chromatograph, spectral analyzer and a host of self-contained expeditionary suits with positive ventilation, stowing them securely in the cargo van.
Doctor Becca, as her troops referred to her, was an epidemiologist by trade but her educational background covered every major approach to the discipline; chemical engineering meshed with immunobiology and coupled with a heavy understudy in neuropathology to give her the best chance at fighting whatever had reared its ugly head in southeast Georgia. The monitor in front of her reflected her flowing red mane, as well as her rimless glasses, and reminded her to button up her blue shirt to conceal the three solid inches of drastic cleavage she'd been prepared to show off to a date. It seemed fate had lined her up with a blind date of its own, as she pulled epidemic stats from all the hospitals and other reporting clinics in the region. A faint buzzing sound interrupted her as she tugged her lapels across the globes in her shirt, and she realized it was her cell phone.
"Is this Doctor Rebecca Collins?" asked a gruff male voice.
"Yes. Who is this?"
"My name's Dixie. I'm going to be hip deep in sick folks here in the next few minutes, so I need you to listen carefully."
"Why should I listen to you? Do you know who I am?" she asked.
"I know exactly who you are, and that's why I'm calling. Right about now, you should be getting ready to leave Atlanta for Saint Simons Island. I'm already on the island, and I'll be pulling up to the locals in about ten minutes. I don't know how much information you're working with, but I do know you were notified of an unidentified outbreak of suspicious origins at 2313 hours tonight, and I'd hazard a guess you'd appreciate some intelligence from someone already on the ground. How am I doing so far?"
"How did you get that information? How did you get my personal phone number?"
"Ma'am, it's truly frightening how much information one can obtain when one is willing to pay. Regardless of how I came to possess the information I do, you are still on the way, right?"
"Well," she paused, not knowing what else to say, "yes. We're pulling away from headquarters now. Our ETA is around 0315." she said. How much else did Dixie know, and what was his motivation? If this were an aberrant strain of the flu, maybe he was a local doctor trying to help. If it were something worse, Dixie, from her narrow experience in security, could very well be an involved party attempting to gauge the CDC's response to a biological attack while it was occurring. She decided not to tell him anything else.
"Alright. Call me back at this number when you get into the area, and I'll have someone link up with you. We'll maintain communications once you get here. I think you'll find our resources are a little broader and deeper than the local Emergency Management Agency." said Dixie.
The MCC rocked and swayed as they pulled into the street and headed for the expressway. Collins was about to tell him goodbye when he spoke again.
"Miss Collins," he drawled, "I know that right now you might feel a little uninformed, but your chain of command should be in contact with you shortly. You may remain hesitant even after being ordered to cooperate with me, and I'll understand if you are, but the sooner we can get on the same page, the sooner you can figure out what we're up against. Right now it doesn't look good at all. When you get here, give us a call. Goodbye, Miss Collins."
The call disconnected. He'd called her Miss Collins, implying he knew she wasn't married. She didn't know him, and he sounded like a southern gentleman who would've known well enough to refer to her as Ms. if he didn't know her marital status. What the hell else did the old bastard know? Where she lived? What kind of car she drove? What she wore while on the treadmill? After a minute of asking herself the creepy questions, she shook the episode from her mind and tried to get back to the stats on the monitor. Another cell phone chimed with an electronic copy of an old rotary phone ring; it was the agency issue phone, and its display simply read: BOSS.
"Yes, sir. We're rolling now. We should be on site in about three hours."
"Good. Did a man named Dixie call you yet?" asked the Director.
It was at that point, as the MCC passed the large, reflective green sign indicating the merge from I-285 to I-75 south, that Doctor Collins realized she was a cog in a machine, a machine yet under construction and pulling her toward her place in it. She didn't know which way she'd turn. She didn't know the shape of the gear that would turn her any more than she could know, in turn, what gear she would apply pressure to. In the employ of the federal government, she had to accept she'd sometimes be asked to do things, the importance of which would not be readily apparent.
"Yes, sir, I just finished having a rather cryptic chat with the man."
"Good. Work with him any way you can. He said he couldn't tell me everything yet, but he'd involve you as much as possible. He sounded like he didn't entirely trust the local law enforcement agency down there to handle the situation effectively, so he's deployed a team of his own in conjunction with some prepared volunteers. When you get to the island, just keep an open mind and listen to Dixie. I got the sense he'll still be the one to keep next to, even if he butts heads with the locals."
"Who is he?" she asked.
"I don't know. I got a call from...well, let's just say I was contacted by a third party before the official request came to CDC from the Georgia EMA. I can't tell you who called me, but as of now you are under an official CDC directive to include Dixie in your evaluation and any active measures you deem necessary for public health."
"Could you be any more vague, sir?"
"I tried, but that spiel was the best I could come up with. Do your best, and keep me updated, okay?"
"Will do, sir." said Collins, just before the faint beep signaling the end of the call.
She turned in her swivel chair to look out the front of the MCC, watching the reflective broken white lines streak by under the bluish tint of the headlamps. A few technicians began running tests on the electronic equipment, busying themselves while trying to keep speculation to a minimum. Government workers with personal cell phones and laptop computers could seriously hamper emergency efforts, which would be the last thing they'd need during a deployment. A commo tech tested their satellite uplink and tapped her on the shoulder, letting her know they were totally independent from local lines anywhere they went.
Collins turned her back to the highway, churning over the few reports of any consequence from the southeastern bloc. Saint Simons had a rabies outbreak on the north end of the island shortly after the turn of the new millennium, but it had been localized and declared inactive within a year. Camden County, to the south, had experienced a slew of skin rashes attributed to people who'd been swimming in the St. Marys river, but each patient recorded in the report was decidedly obese and therefore a perfect breeding ground for intertrigo, a fungal infection of the skin. What lay ahead for Rebecca and her colleagues was certain to be several orders of magnitude higher in severity to have assembled the emergency field team at a moment's notice.
Cooperating with Dixie was the order of the day, and she held out hope he'd be able to find some clues to the infection before too many were lost.
Enter, Stage Left
Hickey returned to his truck, trying to manage how he'd move the others' gear into it. The hasty plan was to carpool with trucks and sport utility vehicles to a location to be determined by Dixie when he arrived. He'd called Hickey a few minutes before, to say they'd have a facility to work out of all to themselves and separate from the local government effort.
He'd left the truck's stereo on, and a tune drifted into the soggy night air:
Well I went home with the waitress
The way I always do
How was I to know
She was with the Russians, too
The words made him smile. Behind him, a vehicle's tires made a whirring sound as it turned into the parking lot from Sea Island Road. He turned to see the Ford Explorer circling the lot, as if the driver were scoping out its contents. As it passed under a lamp, Hickey thought he recognized the driver from a few pictures posted at AR180.net, and he stepped away from his truck to meet him.
"That's an interesting sticker you have on the back window there, sport."
"Yeah, you won't find too many of them in one place, that's for sure."
"Where should I park?" asked DKing.
"Just pull up next to mine, we'll probably convoy from here to the command center, when they tell us where it's at." Hickey said.
DKing pulled into the adjacent space, and as he cut the engine he noticed a throng of uniformed police officers surrounding some men in plain clothes who were obviously law enforcement. He made a mental note to avoid them if at all possible. Some were probably level-headed public servants with nothing to prove, but DKing's experience with police told him there was no way to sort them out beforehand. He got out, and walked around to where Hickey was talking to a couple of uniformed officers next to his truck. The remainder of the song eked from the open driver's door:
Now I'm hiding in Honduras
I'm a desperate man
Send lawyers, guns and money
The shit has hit the fan
"DKing, right?" asked Smitty, extending a hand.
"Nothing personal, but,"
"Forget about it. Anyway, the chief is over there, and I don't think he's on to what I've done here. When he gets wind of it, I think it'll hit the fan for a few minutes, and you guys might have to leave, but I'll catch up to you later. When did Dixie say he'd be here?"
"About ten minutes. He also said there was a team from the CDC on the way, should be here between three and four in the morning." said Hickey.
"Sounds like a least a few things are coming together that we really need." said Smitty. "If another handful of you guys from the site show up, with Dixie and his men, we might have a shot at getting some real work done here."
Smitty stopped talking when D.C. tapped him on the back. He turned to see the chief and assistant chief walking toward them.
"Smitty, who are these men, and what are they doing here?" asked the chief.
"I put out a feeler on the internet to some people who might be able to help in a situation like this. They're just starting to show up. Where do you want them to assemble?"
"You what? You asked civilians for help? Are you out of your fucking mind? I used to have a good bit of respect for you, but it just flew out the damn window, Smitty. If I didn't need all the help I could get right now, I'd fire you on the spot."
"Boss, we need help. There aren't enough troopers available to help us here, and the surrounding agencies are already dealing with their own small outbreaks, isn't that right, Captain Hines?" Smitty asked, turning to the police captain who also served as the local Emergency Management Director.
"Chief, he does have a point. If this were isolated to Glynn County alone, McIntosh and Camden would jump at the chance to help out, but it looks like they've got their hands full already with their own cases of infection."
"I don't give a shit. No one authorized you to deputize a bunch of volunteers who haven't been vetted by the department or any other agency. I want them out of here, now!" screamed the chief, spittle landing on Smitty's uniform shirt.
"I'm not sending them anywhere, Chief. If you want them gone, tell them yourself." said Smitty, his voice on the edge of collapse. He'd never spoken to a superior in quite that tone, and was unsure of the response he'd get. Smitty knew the situation was bad, and knew that no one knew just how bad, and he wasn't about to send those who could help out packing down the road without some resistance.
"What the fuck did you just say to me, Officer?"
Smitty relaxed, and took a couple seconds to make sure his balls were where they belonged.
"I said you can tell them yourself. I asked for their help. Me, not the department. I won't send them away, but if you tell them to leave, they will. You won't get an argument from them, but they are working with another group that isn't represented here yet." Smitty said, gathering confidence with each word. "When the other group gets here, you might find things are moving faster than you expected, and that will be the time to have some extra hands on deck."
Chief Timbes was listening intently to Smitty talk, but he'd been eying the balding man in olive drab pants and a custom leather vest staked with thirty-two round magazines all across the front, and a huge revolver butt protruding from under his left shoulder. The man had been quietly staring at the chief with an expressionless face, hands clasped behind his back, and the muscle-bound military type beside him was pointing to something in the distance. D.C. saw it, too, based on his apparent area of focus, but Timbes didn't want Smitty to think he was ignoring him, because he certainly was not.
"You motherfucker." pronounced the chief. "Smitty, you're fired. Take off that uniform, the badge and gun, and get your personal shit out of my car. You can drop off any other department items you have tomorrow at headquarters."
Smitty was trying to listen to the chief and Hickey and D.C. all at the same time. He heard the chief call him a motherfucker, and say he was fired, but caught only the ass end of the hushed conversation behind him. He picked up, "Is that one of 'em?" and "Hell, if you want to, we've been out of ammo since the bridge."
"Ears." said D.C.
Hickey, D.C. and Smitty instinctively put their fingers in their ears in preparation for a gun shot. The chief, assistant chief, and EMA director remained without preparation for the concussion ahead.
DKing had drawn a bead on the creature, who, drawn by the volume of the chief's tirade, had made it within forty yards of the group. He held the Smith and Wesson .500 revolver out with both hands, slightly bent forward at the waist, and with his feet a little more than shoulder width apart and offset by about six inches from front to rear. The weapon had a set of target sights, blacked out in the rear and with a luminescent dot at the front, which in the available light allowed the barrister to home in on the thing's head as it stumbled for its meal. He rocked the hammer back and rested his finger on the smooth, curved metal of the trigger and began to apply a steady, firm pressure. When the pistol fired, it did not bark so much as roar, flames from the unburned powder jetting up from the ported barrel, flashing bright in the yellow light of the street lamps, the concussion fanning out in a wide swath, enveloping the nearby men and ruffling the chief’s windbreaker.
The zombie's head quite literally exploded into a fine, red mist that hung in the amber near-fog that constituted breathable air on Saint Simons as the body fell to the asphalt.
Chief Timbes yelled obscenities for a few moments, one hand at his left ear, and his other going for his sidearm. When he realized the uniformed officers under his command, including the one he'd just fired, were simply standing next to the man holding the hand cannon with no more concern than they would next to a fire hydrant, he released the grip on his pistol.
"Fucker got close, didn't he?" asked D.C.
"Yep. I guess I was so busy getting fired I didn't notice." said Smitty. "Chief, you okay?"
"I don't know whether to shit or go blind right now." said Timbes. "That," he said, gesturing to DKing and the wisp of smoke from the magnum, "was unsettling. I'm a little nervous with armed civilians running around targeting anything that moves. Keep them on the sidelines until we can get something organized here, can you do that much?"
"Not anymore. I'm no longer employed by the Sterling Police Department, Chief."
"When this is over, I still might fire you."
"I can live with that, if I live." said Smitty.
“Chief Timbes, I’m Jeremiah Hickox, Chief Petty Officer with the Brunswick Coast Guard station.” said Hickey. “I’m in touch with another group who’s interested in helping here. This other group is separate from the men Smitty asked for help, but they are directly responsible for organizing and notifying those who are available to come in.”
“Coast Guard, huh?”
“Yes, sir. And this is DKing, a fellow site member we have a lot of faith in. He’s helped out site members from time to time with legal problems and a lot more. Dixie, the man who’ll be here soon with The Group, indicated that DKing will be in charge of anyone from the website who shows up.” Hickey continued.
Chief Timbes shifted his gaze to DKing, who was snapping the security strap across the magnum’s shoulder holster.
“You’re an attorney?” asked the chief.
“Yes.” was the reply.
“Hmm.” mused Timbes. “Actually, it makes a hell of a lot of sense. Well, Mister DKing, how do you feel about helping the police?”
“You have a serious problem here, Chief. I don’t yet know the full extent of it, but in emergencies there always exists the potential for the government to suspend or otherwise violate people’s rights in the name of public safety. I don’t want any part of that.”
Chief Timbes eased his hands into his pockets and considered DKing’s statement. There was an anti-government smell to it, but the fact of the matter was DKing had driven hundreds of miles to help a population to which he had no personal ties. If the man had family, he’d left them behind to be with like-minded individuals sharing a common goal of bringing order to the birth of chaos in the chief’s jurisdiction.
“Well, hell. Maybe it’s the right place for you, DKing.” said Timbes.
“It could be worse, Chief.” said DKing. “I could be a prosecutor.”
Look What the Cat Dragged In!
A sound like popcorn drifted around the corner of the Shops at Sea Island main building, its echoes reaching the group after bouncing off innumerable buildings and landscaping.
“Okay, who brought the rimfire to the zombie apocalypse?” asked D.C.
“That ain’t rimfire, stud.” said Smitty.
“It’s indoors,” said DKing, “somewhere back there.” He gestured toward the theatre complex and restaurants behind the Harris Teeter, where by that time of night the places should’ve been empty.
Smitty jogged to the chief’s car and removed the Remington 870 from the rack, jacking a shell into the chamber and heading for the corner of the pharmacy that took up the end space. Timbes popped the trunk of his car and dug, retrieved a bandoleer of 12 gauge buck shot, and threw it to Smitty. The officer shouldered the nylon shotshell carrier and marched forward.
A series of shrill barks penetrated the dense night air, but Smitty continued. He heard the footfalls of Hickey, D.C. and DKing behind him, heard the tiny telltale clicks and metal-sliding-on-metal that indicated safeties were being taken off. As they made it halfway around the pharmacy’s south wall, a figure darted around the corner at them, a small semi-automatic in her right hand with the slide locked open, running in long strides like an olive-skinned cheetah on the open plain, her forearms coated thick and dripping in blood. Her eyes scanned the men walking toward her and she locked her gaze on Smitty, zeroing in and making a beeline for him. He recognized her immediately. Shelly took up behind him, gathering stares from the other men as they took in her animal form and contoured clothing. Her sleeveless, one-piece dress covered just down below her cheeks, which grew like chiseled marble into her black, spandex covered legs. Her broad shoulders were like a DaVinci painting come to life, the triceps and biceps engorged from fighting, the veins in Shelly’s forearms highlighted in blood that ran in rivulets down to the Glock model 26 in her right hand.
“Anyone got a nine millimeter Glock mag?” she asked, calm returning to her voice.
D.C. plucked two ten-rounders from his right ankle and tossed them. In less than three seconds, she was charged and ready.
“You okay?” asked Smitty, not looking at her, keeping an eye on the corner.
“I think so. I was hiding for about two hours after things got weird, but they finally found me.” she said, searching his face with her obsidian eyes. For a moment, he relaxed his posture and looked at her, the thick, black hair pulled back into a neat bun, sweat beading on her flawless skin. At the end of that moment he felt a draw for her, leaning to her essence, her scent finding his nostrils and pulling him to her for protection and more. Smitty lowered the 870 from his shoulder and snaked his left hand around the small of her back, feeling the hardness beneath the dress, and
And then DKing detonated his cannon once more, the ported barrel bleaching the night for a fraction of a second and sending a wave of pressure across Smitty and Shelly, the low end of her dress drifting in the wave.
Smitty didn’t mind, and neither did Shelly, but they were brought back to the present as a horde of fifteen creatures lurched around the corner, some dragging their feet and others running. Smitty put the scattergun to work while Hickey began punching the bastards in their faces with hundred and twenty-seven grain pain pills. DKing continued rocking the heavy artillery one round at a time until the cylinder was empty, using the last round on a zombie that had miraculously worked to within five yards of the group. The heavy hollowpoint struck the beast at the jugular notch, creating a temporary wound channel that expanded and caused its head to detach and flop backwards as the last of its fellow undead dropped to the pavement. It stood still with its head hanging by remnants of the spinal cord as the night became silent again, and after a few seconds fell sickly at DKing’s feet.
The next ten seconds were filled with the sound of reloading. The .500 casings made tinny sounds as they struck the asphalt and skittered to a stop, punctuating the action on the lot.
Smitty turned back to Shelly and she put her hand in his, reigniting the tension they’d shared for months. D.C. gave an approving nod to them, but checked across the lot when he saw headlamps light up and heard a diesel engine start. Its yellowish beams bounced across the lot, and it became visible under a street lamp as a large, medium duty military truck. It came to a stop in front of them, and DKing stepped around to the driver’s door, looking up.
“Took you guys long enough, Strycnine. Who’ve you got with you?”
“Mutki, Leland, Kap, Stag, and Pit.” said Strycnine. He looked over to the pile of corpses and furrowed his brow before looking back to DKing. “Y’all leave any for us?”
“I have a feeling this isn’t even the tip of the iceberg.” said DKing flatly. “Pull between the buildings, and park over there next to the cruiser and the green Chevy. We’ll join you in a few, after we clear this building.”
The others dropped from the bed of the truck, along with Atticus on a long line, and offered to help.
“We could use a break for a few, to get reorganized. I need to change anyway, and Shelly could use a toweling off, too.” said Smitty. “Where were you hiding?” he asked Shelly.
“Inside Halyard’s. My date sort of bugged out, went to the can, and didn’t come back to the table. Then a bunch of customers started grunting and attacking each other, and I made it to the ladies’ room where I climbed up in the ceiling until it got quiet. I don’t know if they were searching systematically or if they used some other method, but they found me after a while. I emptied both my mags into them while they were all gathered in the stall, but I had to put a few down by beating them in the head with the Glock.” she explained. The men around her were immediately impressed, both by her physique and the ability to pistol whip a zombie with a subcompact handgun, which was in itself a feat.
DKing holstered the artillery piece, and shucked the Uzi out in front of him, pulling the charging handle back to ready the weapon.
“Stag, Mutki, and Kap, come with me. Strycnine, you and Leland and Pit go park the truck and stand by for the others. More are on the way. The locals don’t have enough help, so we’re going to make do until better arrangements are made.” said DKing. No one questioned why he might have been the one to give orders, but his delivery did not so much sound like orders. More like a well thought out request, with a hint of, ‘No one else has a better idea, anyway.’
Strycnine drove the M35A2 into the main lot and parked it under a street lamp, while the rest walked. DKing gathered his small team outside the restaurant for a short talk.
“Stag, I know the question is coming so I’ll do my best to answer it now. There are no rules of engagement. There is no way, as of yet, to determine who is and isn’t infected. We don’t know how long it takes for a person to get sick, and we don’t know how it’s transmitted, so we do the best we can with what we have. I’ve seen firsthand, just before you pulled up, how these things act. They’re oblivious to men with guns, and a report from earlier is that they don’t respond to verbal commands, either. For now, if there’s time, we’ll start with verbal commands and take it from there. If they don’t respond, we shoot. Try not to let them get too close.”
No questions were asked. There was no discussion. Only a weapons check, and heads nodding to indicate readiness.
As Strycnine cut the motor, the rest gathered around his truck. Chief Timbes and his entourage were milling around a few of the department vehicles, each man with two cell phones and a radio vigorously doing his best to get much needed men and equipment into the area. Leland, Pit, and Strycnine decided to caravan in Hickey’s truck behind Smitty’s patrol car as he drove Shelly to her apartment, leaving D.C. and Hickey to wait on the others. They didn’t have to wait long. Two Chevy Suburbans, heavily armored and obviously loaded to capacity, pulled into the lot and coasted to a stop next to the M35A2. Their occupants got out quietly, and a barrel-chested bear of a man, cigar in his teeth and fire in his step approached.
“Who’d I speak to if I needed the man in charge?” he drawled. His southern accent was so thick it covered itself and hid its true origin.
“I guess I am, for now. Who are you?” asked D.C.
“You can call me Dixie,” he said, extending his hand, “and I’m with The Group. We’re not from the government, but we’re here to help. Was that the chief I seen over there covered in cell phones?”
“Yeah. He wasn’t excited about having outside help, especially armed outside help, but he’ll get over it. You might want to go introduce yourself. We’re gonna wait here for the rest of the site members to show up.”
Dixie ambled over to the impromptu command post, where the men saw him involved in a fairly animated interaction with the Chief of Police, at the end of which Dixie walked back to the group. He lit the cigar in his mouth and took a moment to introduce his crew.
“They ain’t got names, ‘cept the ones their mommas gave them, so just address them by the numbers on their clothing. It ain’t nothin’ personal, and they ain’t gonna take offense at it, but don’t ask ‘em what their real names are. It’s too complicated to explain, and even if I did, you’d tell yourself later you’d have rather not known.”
A general agreement was reached on the identity of Dixie’s crew, and the rest of the characters made up their own minds as to why the men had to remain anonymous. It was good enough for the task at hand.
Dixie provided a printout to D.C. with The Group’s destination. It was a nearly abandoned executive retreat formerly owned by the Phillip Morris Company, with a deep water dock at the back of the property that could come in handy. D.C. would send the new arrivals there, and keep liaison between the department and The Group until Smitty returned and they decided whether to join with The Group or keep acting under their badges.
Smitty and Shelly were in the back of Hickey’s truck with Leland and Pit. Strycnine turned the engine off, and got out while the rest vaulted over the side of the bed. Shelly looked a hundred percent better in a tan polo shirt and matching pants, with a drop leg holster strapped to her right side and ten pistol magazines lined up along the belt. She hadn’t explained who she was or why she had the hardware, but in present company, no one was asking anyway. Smitty still wore his uniform pants and gun belt, but he’d traded vest and blue polyester for a blue Under Armor shirt.
“That was quick.” said D.C.
“What was quick? She just needed to get all that blood off, and change clothes.” Smitty said, raising an eyebrow to his partner.
“Did I what?”
Shelly looked at D.C. with a frown. “This is hardly the time.”
“There’s always time for that.” said D.C., an impish grin worming across his lips.
“Asshole.” said Smitty. “Anyway, where are we with the troops?”
“Still waiting.” said Hickey. “Dixie made it in, and we’re to send any site members who show up to the old Phillip Morris retreat.”
“Good. Any word from the rest of them?”
“Oscar is waiting on the Causeway; he’s supposed to rally a group before coming onto the island.”
“DKing make it back yet?” Smitty asked.
“Not yet.” Hickey mused.
They all shared a look.
“How many cars were in the theater parking lot when you came through?” Smitty asked, aiming at Strycnine.
“Looked pretty full to me.” he said, the realization slapping him in the face like a cement pancake.
“OH, HELP ME TOM CRUISE! I SEE THE BABY JESUS!”
Checking their gear, Hickey, Shelly, Strycnine, Leland, Pit, and the two cops started for the overpriced Italian joint where they’d left DKing and a team to clear the structure. As their element rounded the back corner of the CVS pharmacy, gunfire erupted from the lobby of the Island Cinemas building. They broke into a run, weaving through the droves of SUVs and minivans in the lot, roughly keeping their weapons at the ready. They could see neither creature nor team member, but muzzle flashes brightened the theater lobby. The team inside was silhouetted against the front glass every time they fired, and those outside could see reloads being performed on the move as their new friends withdrew to the entrance.
The outside team made it up the steps, and pulled the aluminum-framed doors open.
“Come on back!” shouted Smitty. “Back and through! Back and through!” He all but threw D.C. to the right, and Pit to the left with their rifles. Hickey climbed onto the concession counter, and drew his scope’s power to the lowest setting so he could keep some sense of perspective in the lobby. He began systematically exploding heads one round at a time with the M14, spraying rotted brain matter across the movie posters on the wall.
Stag’s barrel took on an eerie orange hue, as he dumped magazine after magazine into the frenzied crowd of walking, desiccated stench, laying down suppressive fire as the others strived for head shots to stop the creatures in their tracks. The problem was Stag’s full-auto fire caused each zombie to jerk and twist in what looked like a panicked, pained, aimless non-pattern, but it didn’t stop them. When they were still enough, other team members ended the second life of a recently reborn hellion, only to discover the entire lobby was full of more. DKing changed his Uzi’s depleted stick for another 32 rounds and raised it to his shoulder, firing once, twice, finally three times at the closest monster before it fell. Another had made it way too close, and DKing pushed the selector to auto, ripping into the diseased bastard’s guts and ending his string of bullets with the last three in its neck and head. He heard Smitty shouting almost unintelligibly, but DKing could tell they were all moving rearward for the door. In the corner of his eye he noted a muscular man with an M14 crouched near the popcorn machine, the muzzle blast from the pattern rifle making the yellow, popped delicacy jump inside the glass box. It was an odd thing to notice at such a time.
As Pit and D.C. picked up their fire at the edges of the lobby, DKing, Stag, Mutki and Kap turned and sprinted for the doors, busting out onto the landing before turning back around to cover the team still inside. They couldn’t shoot through the doors; the other team had to come out, too. Stag loaded a fresh thirty rounds into his rifle, placed the flash hider against the low corner of a window, turned his face, and fired once. The glass shattered and fell around him, and when it finished its cascade, he stuffed the muzzle into the lobby from the outside and yelled to the men left inside to pull back. Kap joined him at the window, and poured fire into the horde while the other team unloaded from the lobby and into the lot. As a single unit, they fanned out in a semi-circle, surrounding the theater entrance, taking up positions on the parked cars, using hoods, trunks, and roofs for support.
Almost fifteen strong, the shooters had their fish in a barrel. The zombies didn’t seem too creative, but neither were they relenting in the effort to get to those who were uninfected. Each flash from a fired weapon, each screamed message from one team member to another gathered attention from the once-dead mob, heads twitching in the direction of the most appetizing sound. Better positioned now, the shooters slowed their fire and began making well-planned and choreographed head shots. Some of the creatures required a double tap of the 55- or 62-grain 5.56mm ammunition. Likewise, DKing’s nine millimeter submachine gun sometimes needed two rounds in the head to put a zombie down. Of the weapons being employed in the theater parking lot, Hickey’s M14 seemed most effective. He couldn’t carry as much ammunition, but every round he put into the head of one of the two-legged slugs caused a shower of bone and melted brains.
DKing stopped firing, seeing the wave of creatures slowed by having to negotiate the pile of bodies on the steps. He began moving from man to man, checking ammunition counts and injuries. He and his original team were nearly out of ammo, but the rest were still only half way through what they’d brought to the theater. DKing pulled Stag, Mutki, and Kap to the rear where they could consolidate what ammunition was possible. The zombies continued to pile out of the theater in twos and threes as they could fit through the doors, and he wondered what the maximum capacity of the structure could be and how close to that capacity it could have been. They’d re-killed at least twenty during their withdrawal from the lobby, and a quick glance at the pile mounting on the steps had him guessing at around forty more. They simply couldn’t be accurate enough in the time they had to shoot before they would be overrun, if they kept their current positions. DKing told his team to head back to the truck, and then he jogged over to Smitty, who was spraying buckshot into the demons as they staggered along the crosswalk.
“How many more could be in there?” he asked.
“Capacity for the theater is around six hundred. Night like this, it might have been half full.” replied Smitty. He fired again, catching some luck as two of the pellets lodged in a head and switched a zombie to permanent sleep mode. “Even if it was half full, we’ll be out of ammo before we can kill all of ‘em.”
“We’ve got to move, but they’ll follow. I sent my team back to the truck to reload.” said DKing. As he looked to the rear, toward Halyard’s where they’d first started clearing, he saw a black Suburban with an armor-plated carriage sticking out of the roof. A voice sounded over a P/A system, booming from the truck.
“BEGIN MOVING BACKWARD TO THE TRUCK AND KEEP CLEAR OF THE FRONT. I REPEAT, KEEP AWAY FROM THE FRONT OF THE TRUCK.”
Each man turned in unison to look at where the voice came from, and each in his own way recognized the item atop the roof of the Suburban. Those who had served in the military instantly knew death was coming for someone, and those former soldiers and Marines bolted across the lot in lines perpendicular to the Chevy. It was enough for those who’d not enlisted, and they followed, quickly realizing they were on the wrong end of the M134.
A sound of tearing timber, like a giant band saw eating century-old redwood, tore into the night and a twenty-foot flame gouged the darkness, every seventh or eighth round a tracer. The steps of the Island Cinemas began to fly in chunks, the concrete shrapnel chewing into the mob and sending it tumbling left and right, as other 7.62mm rounds ate away at the standing creatures. Bullets that struck them anywhere but the head began to tear them to shreds, knocking arms off and biting legs apart and making the creatures fall. A lull in the fire allowed the men and Shelly to assemble at the rear of the truck, and when enough of the walking dead populated the lobby and steps once again, the electric machine gun spun to life, a buzz saw of howling destruction ripping the mob apart and keeping it concentrated near the entrance. This went on for about ten minutes, as small groups of zombies made their way into the lobby, routing around the bodies on the floor and out the front door where they met the Magic Dragon of the Parking Lot, who greeted them with open arms and can after can of hot, copper-jacketed lead.
“8” was the man in the turret. The team members had refilled their magazines from ammunition in the back of the Suburban, and they looked ready for more. 8 swiveled the turret to the rear and spoke.
“Go clean up in there.”
The group responded by assuming a traveling overwatch formation, two teams of four members each offset in a fashion to fire on threats posed to the other. As they made the steps, they encountered disabled but still very much hungry animals who received one round each in the head to terminate their second living. Making their way into the lobby and theaters proper, they were able to clear the structure in about fifteen minutes, sometimes popping a zombie here and there just to make sure it wouldn’t move again. When they got to the restrooms, they found their first surprise.
“Anyone left alive in here?” shouted Pit, at DKing’s insistence. He held the door with his boot, scanning the interior of the women’s bathroom.
“Are you one of them?” asked a small, female voice.
“One of who? What kind of question is that? Did you hear any of those things talking before they tried to eat you?” asked Pit. While not well thought out from a victimology standpoint, it had merit.
“I don’t know. I’m scared. I want my Mommy.”
Shit, it’s a kid, he thought.
“I’m not one of them. It’s safe to come out.” said Pit. “That’s it, over here, sweetie.”
She emerged from the far stall, wearing a pink dress stained with blood. It was streaked on her face and in her sandy blond hair, and her white shoes were covered in it. Gingerly, she stepped toward Pit, who lowered his weapon.
“Have you seen my Mommy? Her name is Cassandra.” the girl said, tears welling in her large, brown eyes and rolling down through the blood caked on her cheeks.
Think before you speak, Pit.
“I don’t know your mommy, but I need to take you somewhere safe so we can come back and look for her, okay?” he said.
“Good.” DKing whispered behind him. “Keep it up.”
“If you come with me, I promise nobody will hurt you, okay? The bad people can’t hurt you if you come with me.”
“Okay.” she said.
Pit kneeled on the tile floor and wrapped his left arm around the girl, and she hugged him like she might her own father. He turned to DKing, who in turn looked into the lobby where the mass of corpses littered the floor. The attorney quickly motioned at Shelly, who poked her head around the corner and understood. She began pilfering bodies until she found a shirt not soaked in blood and other bodily fluids, slicing it from the body with a pocket knife. She returned and handed it to Pit.
“Now listen, baby, I need you to cover your head so we can go outside, okay? I don’t want you to see the bad people, and I don’t want them to see you, either, okay?”
She nodded, and Pit wrapped her head in the gray cotton shirt. They ran out as fast as his feet could carry them with the only known survivor.
The site members, Smitty, D.C., and Shelly all met back in the Harris Teeter lot, where an ambulance sat next to the police cars. John sat in the back, sweating profusely and gently testing the enormous bandage on his neck. Pit placed the little girl in the back with him, where John began building a rapport with her as the medics examined her for wounds.
“Will they find my Mommy, Mister John?” she asked.
“They’ll do the very best they can, sweetie.”
Smitty asked John how he was feeling, and other than a little sluggish, he said he felt normal.
“Keep her company, will you?” he asked the older officer.
“Will do, Smitty.”
Intending to walk back around to Strycnine’s truck, Smitty was sidetracked by Chief Timbes.
“You find her in the theater?” he asked.
“Yeah. The only one left alive.”
“Jesus Christ. How did this happen? How did it happen so fast?” the chief asked himself. “I was a little jumpy earlier. I realize this is just developing, and you made a decision based on your experience. I shouldn’t have chewed your ass the way I did, I know that now. Are you still wanting to work with those other people?”
“Yes. If they had enough conviction to show up, I trust them.”
“Okay. I want you to be my liaison between the department and The Group, whoever they are. That guy, Dixie, was a little more than cryptic about who they are and who they work for, but for now it seems they want to help. The Georgia National Guard has been activated, but it will be tomorrow evening before they arrive. It’s the 121st Long Range Surveillance Company from up around Atlanta and they move fast, but they’re spread out from deployments to the Middle East, so they’ll get here when they get here. If there’s anything you need, just let me know. I’ve got EMA coming in to start evacuation procedures, and hopefully they’ll be able to manage the evacuation route without too much help.”
“Okay, boss. I probably should have mentioned it before, maybe sent it up the chain of command, but I got the feeling you would’ve shit on the idea anyway.”
“I would have taken a giant shit on it without knowing what was really going on out here. But hey, didn’t you tell me one time that ‘Perception is a motherfucker?’”
“That I did, Chief. That I did.” said Smitty, a satisfied smirk pronouncing his face.
As he turned to go back to the group, Smitty saw the little girl from the theater alight from the ambulance and run for the M35A2, a shrill, piercing howl emanating from her lungs. He turned to the open back of the bus, where John fell face first to the pavement before struggling to stand.
He wasn’t John anymore. His eyes were filled with blood. A mucus-like fluid ran uncontrollably from his nose and mouth, mixed with a brownish-red secretion that ran down into the neck bandage and soaked it within a minute. His face twisted, tortured with whatever base instincts filled his mind as he tried to decide what was now of import in the world. A pang of hunger dwelled in his gut, and he smelled the air around him actively, tilting his head back and turning from side to side, unable to choose one among the many surrounding him. When he looked at Smitty, Smitty thought there was a hint of recognition in the old man’s eyes, but he was mistaken.
“John,” he said.
And that was all that was required. The aromas that floated around John coaxed him in no particular direction, but the sound of Smitty’s voice drew him forward, for he knew that where there was sound there was a food source making that sound. It wound its way into his ears and filled his mind with the sound, ‘aaaaahhhhhnnnn,’ muddled and muted, but he could see the thing making the sound and he knew it was alive and knew he could eat it. It was all he wanted to do. He moved for the sound and its maker, and saw movement beside it from a man in a white shirt who held a small, black thing that flashed and made a loud noise that was louder than the voice, but didn’t hurt his ears. John felt hurt on his shoulder, and again in his chest, where the air began to burn inside, but it didn’t matter because he needed to eat the sound maker, and there was another flash and then the world was black all over. And then there was sleep, without pain, without hunger, a freedom he’d never felt.
Doctor Collins’ milky complexion flushed as she closed the connection on the satellite phone. Dixie had called to tell her his group was on the ground and beginning operations, and to ask what she’d need from The Group. Collins had run into some roadblocks along the way, trying to research the infection, with what little information was available. The sooner she could get her gloves on some tissue samples and witness the behavior of an infected, the more likely she could identify the culprit.
The MCC pulled in alongside Chief Timbes’ car and stopped. Doctor Collins alone stepped down from the rear and eyeballed the men standing around, picking out the chief by his jacket. The boss caught her looking, and judged her lab coat against the markings on the MCC and walked to meet her.
“You must be Chief Timbes.” she said, holding her hand out. He grasped it gently, eyeing her delicate features.
“Like the jacket says, Miss?”
“Rebecca Collins, and we’re with the CDC. What can you tell me?”
“Not much, I’m afraid. Hang on.” he said, turning to survey the lot. “D.C., come over here!” he shouted, summoning the officer.
“Hey Chief.” said D.C. He looked at the doctor’s sculpted face, and lost count of the soft, light brown freckles dotting it. Her red hair held his gaze for only a moment before he noticed the ample crevasse below her neckline. She introduced herself, and asked if D.C. could brief her on the situation. He agreed and followed her into the MCC.
DKing gathered the site members as a black Chevy Tahoe coasted into a parking space. Splashsplat alit from the driver’s side, and arcfootball17, Niquorice, and trojanchef joined him, their team assembling in front of the rest of the site members. Each man wore a pistol in service caliber in a thigh holster or on the belt. The rest of their gear was in the back of the Tahoe, with enough ammunition to hold off a platoon of Marines.
“Okay,” said DKing, noting the Georgia Hometown logo on the Tahoe, “now we’re getting somewhere.”
Splashsplat introduced the men he’d brought, and handshakes and likewise introductions were made, after which a protracted silence fell upon them. All looked to DKing, who looked about ready to speak when his cell phone came to life.
“It’s Fury. I’ve got Stimpsonjcat and TecRsq with me. We made it to the island, but I’ve got some friends I need to check on before we link up with the rest of you guys. That okay?”
“This is an all-volunteer effort, Fury. Whenever you can make it will be fine. Where are you headed? I mean, what part of the island?” asked DKing.
“It’s near the south end of Saint Simons. A vacation rental home they got for the week. One of them called me and said they’d seen some weird stuff going on, and she was afraid to leave the house. Once I check on them, we’ll get in touch with you and find out where we need to be.” said Fury.
“Well, if you’re heading for the south end, just stay there. We may need someone down that way, and it would help if they’re already down there. Just make sure to keep your phones charged and close by. How’s that sound?”
“Sounds good. I’ll call when we get set up.” Fury said, and broke the call.
As DKing put his phone away, three vehicles pulled into the lot and slowed as they maneuvered through the emergency vehicles. As if on cue, they turned for the AR180.net gathering and pulled into parking spaces along the front of the shops. Guns shut the motor on his Roush Mustang, halting the rumble of the throaty exhaust. Davey pushed the door closed on his Audi A4. Oscar didn’t bother to lock his Dodge Durango, and Coop even left the windows down in his Chevy, and another team joined the effort.
After a few more brief introductions, DKing began briefing the crew.
“For now, all we have is a loose mandate to assist the Sterling Police Department in evacuating those persons we find who are not infected. Along the way we’re sure to come across more of what we’ve already seen tonight, and I hope everyone brought enough ammo. For those of you just arriving, believe me when I tell you you’ll know one when you see it.” DKing paused for a moment and strolled past the group, gesturing for them to follow. He stopped when he reached the corpse he’d decapitated with the Magnum. “The skin tone is not normal. This isn’t a real good example, as it’s missing most of its head, but you’ll see blood and other fluids coming from the nose and mouth, and their eyes are full of blood, too. They don’t respond to verbal commands, and punching and kicking them only sets them back momentarily. If you didn’t bring a melee weapon with you, I’d highly suggest you pick one up along the way. We ended up with a hornet’s nest of them inside the theater, and shooting them anywhere other than the head is pretty much useless. You guys with me so far?” he asked.
The newest arrivals nodded their heads when they weren’t looking at the busted meat sock at their feet.
“Like I said, for starters we’re helping the locals. We’ll start from here, with one vehicle per team. I like the trucks with an open bed, sport utility vehicles second. Passenger cars will be last resort. House by house, door to door, make contact with anyone inside. If possible, get permission to search the house. Some of you know me, and know I don’t like the idea of rooting through people’s homes willy-nilly. If this were any other kind of emergency, I’d be dead set against it. What we want, though, is to determine if there are infected people in the home. If the residents are clean, advise them to evacuate. If they want to stay in their house, we have no authority to make them leave. The evacuation isn’t mandatory at this point, but it’s highly recommended, and I’m against it anyway. I have no doubt you will encounter these things,” he said, pointing at the body, “along the way. If it’s got junk running out of it and refuses to heed a verbal command, shoot it.”
“What do we do if someone’s infected inside a home, and others aren’t?” asked Coop.
“Good question. I don’t have a one hundred percent right answer for that. We still don’t know what we’re dealing with. A little while ago, the chief over there shot and killed one of his own officers that was bitten by one of these things about four hours ago. I don’t know if that’s the hard and fast incubation time for this disease, but I wouldn’t take any risks. Stay out of arm’s reach of an infected person, and if you can see them, you should be pointing a gun at them.”
A few looks of apprehension were shared among the group, and Smitty picked up on this.
“Guys, this is what so many people on the site have wet dreams about. It’s fun to watch in the movies, and fun to imagine yourself among the horde, but I’ve almost shit my pants on three separate occasions since this thing started. My chief blew the head off one of my good friends about twenty minutes ago. I don’t know whether I’m in shock, or I genuinely realize this is as good as it’s going to get, but one thing you guys better get through your heads is that you can’t hesitate. Normal people will freak out if you point a gun at them and start yelling. These things don’t act like that. When you see one, take your time and shoot it in the head as soon as you’re confident you can make the shot.” said Smitty. “Otherwise, we might have to put one in your dome later.”
A solemn sigh escaped several men, and each resolved in his own mind that the upcoming hours would not be filled with pleasantries and party favors.
“Alright,” DKing resumed, “Stag, Mutki, Kap, and Woody are with me on Alpha Team. Strycnine, Leland, Pit, Smitty, and Shelly will be Bravo Team. Charlie is Splash, Arc, Nicquorice, Trojan, and Medic. Delta will be Guns, Davey, Oscar, Coop, and UGA. Fury, Cat, and Tec are heading to a location on the south end of the island, and will be a reactionary team if we need personnel down that way. They should be on scene soon and it sounded like they’ll try to fortify the house, so we might have a good place to fall back to if needed. Any questions so far?”
“Do we have ammunition available? I brought about three hundred rounds, but if it’s as bad as you say it is we might need more.” asked Coop.
“Yes, ammo is available but I don’t know how much. There is another group working out here, but I don’t know exactly what they’re doing. Maybe they’ll come out at some point and help clear the streets with us, but for now I think they will be busy setting up their command post. They have some ammunition for the most popular calibers, but if I were you I would conserve where possible. One more thing: We don’t have any dedicated commo yet, but we may be able to secure some later.”
Davey smiled and interrupted DKing, inviting the group over to the trunk of his Audi. Inside were three banks of six radios each, Motorola 3000 portable series, along with a short rack of mobile units for use in the vehicles. DKing smiled back, and they passed out the devices.
“I put the four primary police channels into them before I left. The mobile units are capable of repeating, and in this area you should never find yourself out of range with them. Channels one and two are four our use, and channels three through six are the police band. Press this button on the side,” he said as he demonstrated, “and you can scan the six frequencies.”
“Now if we just knew where we were going,” remarked Trojan.
“Until we can get some paper maps, I think we should use cell phone map programs to guide us.” said Davey.
“Agreed.” DKing said. “Go down the road. Make a turn. Clear every structure, as best you can, on that particular street. Return here and report. That’s the best we can do for now.”
They spent the next bit checking their weapons and preparing the rest of their equipment.
When D.C. was done giving Collins the play-by-play, he hopped into the truck with Charlie Team and headed out to work. Collins remained at her terminal, inputting the new data from the officer’s firsthand account. The manifestations of the disease, altogether, didn’t meet any recognizable criteria for known afflictions. The computerized database she was accessing was rarely wrong when they used it to identify diseases by external observation, and even less so when they could add in a microscopic examination of tissues and fluid. Of a sudden and on a hunch, she contacted Dixie.
“How much pull do you have with the government?” she asked.
“Enough. What do you need?”
“Access to archived files, Army Bio-Warfare Labs. The program was shut down in the late sixties or early seventies, and I just want to make sure of something.”
“Let me make a few calls. Tell you what, as bad as this is I’m going to get you access to everything I can. Just keep in mind the need to know aspect of it, understand? Anything you come across has to be kept to yourself unless absolutely necessary, right?”
“Understood. I’m just playing a hunch, anyway. I doubt I’ll find anything, but I want to make sure.” she said.
“I’ll get back with you in a few.” Dixie said before hanging up.
Collins perused some more files on hemorrhagic fevers and malaria variants, pulling up infection rates and graphic pictures of victims to compare with the at-scene photos. She hadn’t seen the island’s infected for herself, but the police had provided her with a gruesome series of photos from the bridge to Sea Island. Horrific in the shiny, gory glow of a camera’s flash, the color of everything was wrong. Where there should have been red, there was a dirty, claylike brown. Where there should have been the light brown, grayish hue of brain tissue there was a purplish hue to the match the color of rotten dog feces. Before she could finish the slide show, Dixie rang her up.
“Prepare to copy a set of user names and passwords.” he said. He read them off, and gave her the web addresses that would take her to the numerous secure government databases. “And remember, be mindful of what you find there.”
She acknowledged before ending the call, and immediately set about extending her search into the normally unsearchable. Inside the classified files, now digitized, of the Biological Warfare Labs, she stumbled upon a name she hadn’t heard in years. Shaheed Markawi. Why should the name have meaning to her? In that moment, she could not make the connection other than to know she should have remembered the name. She shifted to the next machine and opened an internet browser to search the name. Over a hundred thousand responses were returned by the search engine, so a narrowing was in order. She typed, SHAHEED MARKAWI + BIOLOGICAL + CHEMICAL. The results were far fewer, directing her to hundreds of doctors and researchers in the Middle East and North Africa. About halfway down the page there was an entry linked to an article published in the June 1979 issue of the World Health Organization’s quarterly report on endemic flu strains in Southeast Asia. She clicked the link, and saw the introduction for the author: Shaheed Markawi recently retired from the U.S. Department of Defense as a Chemical/Biological threat analyst, and took a position at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia. The bio went on to explain some of Markawi’s works around that time before giving his dissertation on the state of infection control in Viet Nam and surrounding countries.
So, she knew who he was. The office Christmas party, wedding receptions for co-workers, staff meetings, all ran together until the circuit was completed. Markawi preceded her by about a decade at the CDC, and his story had been one of sorrow. As reported by senior management, Markawi had gone on vacation and drowned in a boating accident. His work at the CDC had been stellar, as a man of his intelligence and drive should have been, and there had been speculation of possible hidden drug use contributing to the boat crash. Since then, though, no one had thought much of him.
She returned to the government servers and brought up her own organization. In the personnel files, she located Shaheed Markawi and searched for notes about him. An attachment from the Human Resources division noted his death and reporting to his life insurance company, an official disclaimer that his death was listed as accidental, and was not a result of work performed for the CDC. Collins switched, on another hunch to the FBI database, and punched in her sparkling new password. A search for the name prompted her to enter her password yet again, which she did. A revelation scrolled onto the screen, sending an icy volcano up her spine.
Markawi was listed in the classified report as a participant in a failed assault on heads of state during the 2004 G-8 Summit on Sea Island, a scant two miles from where she sat. According to the report, he was shot and killed aboard a small boat along with two other men, as recently as six years ago. It was too much to be coincidence. Collins returned to the Bio Warfare Lab files and found Markawi’s former supervisor, Doctor Maxwell Funk. He retired after forty years of government service, and she was able to locate him in a northern Virginia long term care facility, aged eighty-three.
Dixie was supervising the setup of The Group’s secure satellite uplink on the second floor balcony of the cabin. Motion sensors and thermal detectors were already in place around the group of buildings they’d secured, and 1, 2, and 3 were on a foot patrol. His phone vibrated in his shirt pocket, and he flipped it open.
“I need someone to go talk to a man named Maxwell Funk. He’s in a nursing home in Virginia, and with what I’ve found, he may have a clue to help us narrow the field here.”
“Sweetie, you just give me the address, and let Dixie do the rest.”
Golden Manor Extended Care Facility
Agents Ford and Wiley pushed through the double doors at Golden Manor around three thirty in the morning. Awakened from a dead sleep, they both wore the haggard, unshaven look of men who spent too much time in the office and not enough exercising to look normal at that time of night.
“Can I help you?” asked the receptionist, a round black woman in her late forties.
“Ma’am,” said Ford, whipping out the credentials, “we need to see a mister Maxwell Funk. It’s very important.”
“Is this the part where you tell me it’s a matter of national security?” she came back, laying the sarcasm down thick as peanut butter.
“No ma’am.” replied Wiley. “This is the part where I arrest you before I come back there and go through your computer to find out where he’s at. It’s almost four in the morning, which might be the middle of your work day, but happens to be the middle of the goddamn night for me.”
“No sense in talking to women that way. Didn’t your momma teach you any manners?”
Ford took the opportunity and ran with it.
“Mrs. Mosley,” he read from the name tag, “we really need to talk to him as soon as possible. I don’t know if you are aware of his previous occupation, but he retired from the government after forty years. It just so happens there is an emergency ongoing, and he may be able to help.”
“Well, since you seem to have remembered respect for other people, I might can help you then.” she said. She rang the night orderly, who escorted the FBI agents to a room near the end of the hall. The younger man knocked on the door until they heard someone shuffling around.
The orderly excused himself when the door opened and the old man showed himself. He wore a thick, red-and-black plaid smoking jacket and smelled heavily of cigar fumes. Barely a hair remained on his head, and what remained around his ears was silvery white and thin. He squinted, missing his spectacles, and looked over the credentials the men held out.
“I sort of figured this would happen someday. You men come in and take a seat.” he said.
“Doctor Funk, I really hate to sound troubling, but apparently there is a situation in Georgia that the authorities are convinced you can help with.” said Ford.
“I’ve only been through Georgia, never really been there except for a few visits to the CDC. I don’t know how I could be of any help.”
Wiley set a black case on the coffee table, opening it and drawing a line of cable out. He connected the cable to a gray plastic tube, and ran it out to the patio, laying it on the plastic picnic table. He pushed the sliding door to, and returned to the open case, where back light from the screen lit up his angular face and blond hair. The old doctor sat patiently while the agent went through the process of establishing contact with someone on the other end of the satellite link. Funk was old, but he wasn’t dull or out of touch with technology. Wiley turned the screen with its integrated camera to face Funk.
“Doctor Funk?” she said.
Maxwell looked at the woman on the screen, and for a moment forgot he was over eighty.
“That’s me. What can I do for you?”
“You had a man, Shaheed Markawi, under your supervision while at the Army Bioweapons Labs in Maryland, correct?”
“Yes, I did. He was a good worker, always on time, never left early, very bright. Has he done something?”
He could see the flaming mane of Rebecca Collins in full color, and watched as she averted her eyes while deciding how much to tell him. Maxwell always did have a thing for redheads, so he didn’t mind that she took her time.
“Doctor, about six years ago, Shaheed was killed in a poorly executed attempt to assassinate or attack high ranking members of the world’s most powerful nations. It was never reported to the public, for reasons I don’t understand. That attack occurred off the coast of Sea Island in south Georgia, where I am now investigating an outbreak of an unidentified epidemic. I usually trust my hunches when dealing with viruses, and I’m rarely wrong. I hope this is a dead end, and you can go back to sleep soon.”
“What exactly are you asking?”
“Is there a possibility that Markawi released, or arranged the release of a biological weapon? Is it possible he secured it for later use by another party?” asked Collins.
“Absolutely not. The amounts of biological contaminant kept in the lab were never enough to weaponize. When Nixon cut the program, our entire inventory was ordered to be incinerated, and most of the weapons-capacity containers were kept off site and secured under the same protocol as nuclear weapons. As I recall, the Anniston Army Depot burned all our experimental projects first after the presidential order, followed by the most dangerous. Literally, we never kept enough stock on hand to fill a dispersal device. If it were weaponized, it was transported and grown from a sample in an even more secure facility where the assembly was completed. I just don’t think Shaheed could have gotten anything out of there, and I never saw him as that sort.”
“Excuse me, dear?” said Funk, smiling, knowing full well where he had to take her. He just wanted to prolong the conversation with a beautiful creature.
“You said ‘most of the weapons-capacity containers were kept off site.’”
“Yes, all but one. But I personally witnessed those three canisters leave the facility. There’s no way…”
“I’m afraid your memory of Shaheed Markawi may be of the man you first met and came to know, instead of the man he became. I’m seeing victims of a disease here that I can’t identify, whose external symptoms don’t match anything recorded.” insisted Collins.
Maxwell Funk bowed his head, and prepared to accept the reality that one of the creations he’d overseen was out in the world, destroying life and creating chaos, and in of all places the United States. He’d from time to time had the nightmare that a biological weapon would be used against the U.S. in some form or another. A few anthrax attacks and copycat antics made the news over the years post 9/11, but no serious effort by a foreign power or terrorist group had succeeded and he doubted even the logic of launching one, given the unexpected and unpredictable nature of it. With chemical weapons, one could be assured of mass casualties as long as the delivery system was thoroughly devised and implemented, though with each category there would be differing levels of response in the intended victims. Biological weapons were the same in many ways; if you could find a good method of delivery such as a public water system or tainting a popular food, the desired effect could be reached within certain measures of efficacy. No two humans reacted identically to the same stimuli, even when it was a poison or toxin. Current computerized medical databases and comparison programs, coupled with highly efficient communication between medical authorities, made disease identification quicker and more accurate in the modern day. A CDC representative like Rebecca Collins would surely have the expertise to use those resources to their fullest, and would not resort to waking an old man near his end and deprive him of the sleep he enjoyed so much. He eventually raised his head, and retook the gaze of her electronically translated countenance.
“Do they have bad skin? I don’t mean eczema or a poison ivy rash.”
“Yes. It’s almost gray, even in black subjects.”
“Do they have excessive fluid discharge from the nose and mouth, and eyes so bloodshot they appear as the 3 ball in a billiard game?”
“Do they retain a certain amount of physical mobility while failing to display any cognizance of human presence, such as refusing to acknowledge other people, other than an instinct to attack?”
The auburn haired CDC doctor paused before answering. The old bastard knew exactly what they were dealing with. He’d probably known as soon as the agents told him there was a problem. If not then, at the mention of a former participant in the Bioweapons program.
“Yes.” she said flatly.
“I’m gathering that the fact you were able to summon two federal agents to my bedside at this hour, that you’ve access to my archives from the lab?”
“Good. I could tell you what I remember, but the archives hold all the rest of the details. Look for ODD, or some variant. Operation Demolition Derby. If you can’t find it, you can send these spry young men back around to pick my brain some more.”
“Demolition Derby? Was it supposed to be some kind of joke?”
“No, young lady. In a real, knock-down drag-out derby, everyone loses.”
Collins terminated the connection. The cold sensation running along her spine disappeared and was replaced by nausea, a spiral of sickness in her gut that threatened to pull her heart into her bowels.
Collins continued her search through the many government databases, searching any and all for a reference to O.D.D. After some fifteen minutes, a dated folder drew her attention. She opened it, and began to browse the typewritten documents scanned into the file, feeling the trickle of fear climb along her spinal cord, curling its icy tentacles around each vertebra.
--Subjects exhibit intelligence consistent with children aged six to ten.
--Able to maneuver through their lab environment nearly unimpeded. Able to climb objects less than their height, and sprint for short distances.
--Athletic subjects, once infected, retain a significant amount of their athletic ability, i.e.: endurance, muscular strength. Sedentary subjects tend to move much slower and show much less coordination. Subjects show a response to pain stimuli that is muted; they will recoil from impact with a blunt object, but they recover quickly and as though there were no injury, even in cases of broken bones. Severe damage to the hip girdle is the most efficient avenue for immobilization. Destruction of the brain or spinal cord is the only circumstance likely to produce death. Damage to the heart/lung area is not effective for many minutes, and would allow the subject to continue in attack. Ordnance Corps was contacted for consultation, and gave the following recommendation based on film footage and autopsy findings: Service-caliber rifles and magnum handgun cartridges most suitable for use on infected subjects. Heavy bladed weapons for melee, and intense fire as a means of mass disposal, i.e. lure large numbers into a structure and burn it down.
--Infected subjects have an extreme food drive. Sense of smell and hearing seem amplified; subjects are easily drawn to the smell of food and live animals and sound. Proximity to uninfected persons excites the infected, triggering physical attacks. Extreme caution must be used when transferring subjects from one area to another.
--The virus is limited mainly to the saliva glands, which in the final phase of infection are overactive, contributing to dehydration. They seek water and take in fluids whenever it is available. Infected subjects are able to differentiate between liquids by smell, selecting water and other suitable drink versus toxic liquids. They will not willingly ingest poisons and toxins, possibly due to their heightened sense of smell. It is possible to drug the subjects with sedatives and depressants, though the effects are difficult to correlate in slow movers. Recommended doses of sedatives have differing lengths of effect inconsistent with known drug facts.
--The infection may manifest with symptoms within four hours, but has been observed as late as ten hours. There has been speculation that the physical condition of a subject may directly affect the time between infection and symptom onset. Healthier subjects took longer to show symptoms than the more sedentary specimens. The mechanism remains unknown.
--The precise origin of the virus also remains unknown. Staff has asked few questions regarding its discovery, but some have gathered that is not entirely a naturally occurring virus. An advisor specifically commented on the “engineered” appearance of the virus, but talk quickly returned to normal. The advisor was counseled on operational security.
--Staff not wearing respiratory equipment report a terrible odor around the subjects, and have noted discharges of varying colors and consistency from all orifices. For safety reasons, urethra, vaginal and anal openings have not been examined while subjects are still highly mobile. High concentrations of the virus are present in the discharge from the nose and mouth. Following initial infection, subjects begin the process of decomposition. It is hampered by an unknown mechanism, and remains slowed until twelve to sixteen days following infection. After this approximate two week period, decomposition becomes highly accelerated and continues at this rate until death.
--Lab assistant (D2) was bitten on 18 July. He was under strict observation by the assistant director of ODD, and examining a subject in day thirteen of the infection cycle. The subject was secured to the examination table per protocol, but our investigation revealed the head strap was insufficiently tensioned to keep the subject’s head down. While retrieving a sample of mucosa from the mouth using a swab extension, (D2) was bitten when the subject awoke suddenly and picked his head up from the table. An immediate lockdown was initiated, and (D2) was secured to a solitary exam cell for further evaluation. The following twelve days were consistent with observations already on file. Countermeasures in place in this lab were of no use.
--/10Oct1967/M. Funk, Asst. Dir. O.D.D./personal note/ “President Nixon visited today. He indicated his intent to scrap the whole program, and I was inclined to agree. We’ve been at it for nearly six years, and haven’t made a lick’s worth of progress toward anything resembling a cure, much less a vaccine. Personally, I’ll be glad to be rid of it. He actually asked me what I thought of the program, and I told him the God’s honest truth, that I couldn’t imagine a single, solitary situation where the United States would be justified in using this virus on an enemy. I told him I’d seen the results of every chemical and biological weapon ever used against men, and O.D.D. was the worst of it. He agreed. I hope we can rid ourselves of this thing soon. Our test subjects are far from innocent, and I know they’ve signed their lives away in the name of science to avoid the death penalty in their home countries, but I still cringe a little when I see them come in. It didn’t help when (D2) was bitten and we had to watch him go like that. I wanted to go in there and shoot him in the head, but the Director wouldn’t allow it for want of seeing how the latest antivirus would affect him. Not that it did any good.”
--/18Nov1967/M. Funk, Asst. Dir. O.D.D./personal note/ “Received visitors today from the Department of Defense. I suspect they were not who they purported to be, but the Director mandated the meeting. O.D.D. is to be discontinued, but three weaponized canisters will be kept on site. When I asked about the reason for this, I was handed a nondisclosure statement and forced to sign it under pain of termination. I reminded the men there was no cure, no antivirus, and that it would be pure idiocy to use this as a weapon in any area where our troops might be. They laid it out: The United States would retain the nuclear and other chemical weapons for use as first-strike options. O.D.D. would be our last-strike, our ace-in-the-hole. I asked them to expound on this idea, and I was told that if the U.S. suffered losses so severe as to render us incapable of rebuilding our nation, the virus would be deployed against whoever made us that way. After that, I understood what they meant. If a nation-state were able to permanently cripple the United States, Uncle Sam would become the world’s sorest loser. I’m no longer certain I can be proud of this portion of my career. I am glad it is over. I pray this virus is forgotten, and hope one day it will be so far in our past it will be destroyed for fear of the containers failing. Protocol dictates a fifteen-year shelf life for the device, but the engineers promised me the canisters were good for fifty. I pray God buries this program in the bureaucracy.”
--/05Jan1968/M. Funk, Asst. Dir. O.D.D./program directive/ “ATTN: All staff participating in Operation Demolition Derby are to return their nondisclosure statements to my office as soon as possible. Personal security and operational security are paramount when we work on such sensitive projects. You will be reassigned back to the projects you came from, with high regards from my office. Thank you for all the hard work, and please continue to do your best for the Department of Defense. Sincerely, Maxwell Funk.
Collins scanned the highlights. When she reached a stopping point, she couldn’t move. She knew she had to forward this information to the men in the street, but as of yet there was no absolute confirmation that they were dealing with ODD. It matched the field reports she had, but samples and some time in their mobile lab would confirm the virus was here. If it was, they were in a whole new ball park. There would be no quarantine of infected persons, no treatment to dole out. Just death. A bullet in the head. A head chopped off, or bashed in with whatever was at hand. She called Dixie.
“Hey, Doc. What can I do for you?”
“I may have found out what we’re seeing here. If I’m right, we’re going to need more help, and there’s a…” she paused, her voice trailing to nothing.
“There’s what, Doc?”
“There’s no cure, if it’s his thing I found.”
“Oh.” he said. “I’m not quite sure I get where you’re going with this.”
“You’ll have to kill them all. Every single person infected will have to be killed. Men, women, and children.”
“I see.” said Dixie. There was a rustle on his end of the line, and she could hear him muttering to one of his men. “I’ll make some more calls. This is going to be much louder than I initially projected.”
“Call who you have to. I’m going to get the men here to collect some samples for me, so I can figure out what we have. I’ll…call if I do.”
“Take care, Doc. Let me know if there’s anything else you need.”
“We need priests. A lot of them.” Collins said. That was one thing she was sure of.
DKing, Stag, Mutki, Kap, and Woody started from the Shops at Sea Island with D.C. as a driver. Having a local officer in tow would help in the event an actual arrest had to be made, however unlikely that was. They would clear the Black Banks first, a gated community just east of Frederica Road, where the upper-class of the island felt comfortable. D.C. commandeered the department’s three quarter ton truck, and they pulled from the lot.
At the gate, DKing asked D.C if there was a way to get the code for the access box. D.C. promptly goosed the motor and barreled through the wrought iron structure.
“Was that necessary?” asked DKing.
“911 is flooded, and they won’t give codes over the radio.” D.C. responded. “And I lost most of my manners on the bridge.”
DKing scoffed quietly, and chalked it up to fatigue on D.C.’s part. They heard the crack of rifle fire several houses away, and D.C. pushed it around the corner where the headlights shone on fresh corpses in the street. The team exited, with two remaining in the bed, elevated above the scene and casting bluish-white beams with their weapon lights.
“Who’s there?” came a voice from the home. The single story ranch style was completely dark.
Stag illuminated the front door, and they saw the flash hider of an AR-15 poking out from behind the partially open door. He shouted to the occupant, “At ease, there.”
“We’re with the police.” said DKing. “We just need to know if everyone’s okay in there. We don’t want to come in.”
The muzzle behind the door began to rise.
“DON’T!” Stag yelled. “We’re not coming in, got it? If you’re all okay in there, just say so!”
Aside from the sound of crickets and the occasional bullfrog, there was a small concert of metal parts in light percussion that signaled the safeties were off.
The barrel in the door lowered, and a man’s face became visible. He looked out to see six weapons were aimed at him, but did not panic. Instead, he stood and walked out, rifle in hand, held low. The team lowered theirs as well, appropriately tuning the tension down.
“I was walking my dog when some of the neighbors came out and tried to attack me. I made it back here and got the rifle and flashlight. I put seven of ‘em down, and what you heard was the last of them, I hope. Can you tell me what’s going on? They all looked sick, like the walking dead.”
“They are.” said D.C.
“Sir, there’s been an infection. A serious one, and for now we’ve been told there’s no cure. It is transmitted through biting, and it has a fairly short temper. Once infected, the only way to deal with an infected person is to kill them. I don’t like the options I’ve got, but they are what they are. Do you have family members in the house?” DKing asked.
“No, I live alone. The wife passed a couple years back, and my kids have been grown and gone for thirty years.”
“Well,” continued DKing, “you can stay here and hold out, or head out of town until this is all over. I’d recommend high tailing it ‘til we get this thing figured out.”
The man lowered his head and juggled his rifle a bit. Kap shined a light on it, noting the AUTO marking next to the selector lever, and smiled.
“You like it?” he asked. “Bought it in ’81. My son hates guns and doesn’t want it.”
Kap’s smile drained like wax from a candle too close to the fire.
“Give me your name and number, and when this is all done, I’ll will it to you.”
For a moment, even the crickets and bullfrogs even seemed to cease their noise.
“I, uh…” Kap began. He was interrupted by the pop of Woody’s AR-15 from the bed of the truck. They all turned toward the sound in time to witness a body falling in the street, a blob of browned liver gushing from its head.
“Got him!” Woody shouted.
“I’m serious about the gun, son.” said the man. Kap acknowledged with a nod, and followed the old man into the home, where he left contact information. While inside, the man also showed him the safe. Cases of 5.56mm and 7.62x51 were set behind the shrubs near the front door. He explained he couldn’t shoot it all, and someone might could use it during the emergency. The team thanked him, and left him with the promise he’d head to his son’s home near Atlanta.
As they were mounting the truck, D.C. had just put the transmission into drive when the mass of creatures folded into the road ahead. There were perhaps thirty soulless carcasses, ambling toward the large pickup, their eyes shining a hellish blue in the headlamps, framed with the dying blood that used to carry their lives. DKing angled up in his seat, preparing to position the Uzi in the window, but D.C. motioned against it. Remembering the advice that the beasts were drawn to noise, he lifted the mic for the P/A system and began jabbering incoherently as he shifted into reverse, idling backwards. The throng completely blocked the road, still pushing for the truck, and when there were perhaps fifty meters between them, D.C. shifted into drive and turned to DKing.
A song from the last decade echoed from the stereo, something about bodies hitting the floor.
“Save your ammo, counselor, we may need it later.” To the others he said, “Hang on!”
The large eight cylinder engine pushed the truck to about thirty miles an hour before it plowed into the crowd, stuffing decomposing burritos beneath its tires and jackknifing zombies under the axles. Past the mass of walking stench, he veered into a yard that looked pristine enough to grace the cover of Better Homes and Gardens, and promptly spun a circle with the all-terrain tires, eliciting a “Woo hoo!” from a team member. On the return pass, several of those not hit the first time had filled the gap, and were mowed down like scarecrows. D.C. stopped easy on the other side, allowing the team out for cleanup.
There were several dead who’d eluded the truck, and smelling and hearing the men advancing on them caused feral snarls and guttural howling, growling as they lunged for food. Kap, Stag, and Mutki picked their shots carefully, with Mutki’s .50 caliber rifle thumping hard when it struck necks and faces. DKing and Woody were several paces behind and to the side, keeping coverage to the side while D.C. covered the rear. It was over in seconds. These were men who took pride in their accuracy and competency with their weapons. Slow moving zombies in that number were not much of a challenge. The three in front pressed on to the far side of the carnage, leaving DKing and Woody to execute the not-quite-ambulatory survivors of D.C.’s imitation of Grand Theft Auto in the ‘burbs.
After checking their magazines, they rallied at the truck and went back to the front of the subdivision. Then the monotonous part began; they would go door to door, contacting residents and offering them the same advice to evacuate or hold in place if they felt capable of doing so. The other teams should have been well under way with the same, but the sound of gunfire in the distance hinted at a road not so smooth.
House of Ill Repute
Fury, Stimp and TecRsq idled along Ocean Boulevard, quiet as possible in Fury’s borrowed Ford crew cab. It was a two-wheel-drive, but sat high enough to provide a commanding view of the road and yards, and had street tires that didn’t make too much racket as they rolled on the main artery of the southern end. In the eleven hundred block, Fury spotted the girls’ vehicles with the tags all from the same county in Georgia, and the windows smeared in chalk paint after the wedding reception. He pulled to the shoulder.
“Keep an eye out, Cat.” he said as he tried to call the girl’s cell phone.
“They call me Stimp, you know.”
“I didn’t know that. Cat sounds cooler, though, don’t you think?” asked Tec. “Why Stimp over Cat?”
“It’s just got that personal ring to it, dude.”
Fury raised Kathy on the phone, confirming the location.
“Are you guys okay in there?” he asked.
“For now, yeah, but there’s two men in the back yard just walking back and forth, making sounds. They look like they’re drunk or high or something. We’re trying to be quiet so maybe they’ll go away.” said Kathy.
“Alright. We’re a couple houses down from you. I’m going to pull up out front, and the two guys with me are going to go around the back and see what the deal is. When you see me out front, come to the door and let me in, okay?”
“Okay. Hurry up, though, we’re getting pretty creeped out.”
Fury put it back into drive, and let it idle down the pavement until he was in front of the two-story vacation rental. The lights were still on but there was no movement visible through the windows. He killed the motor, and the three of them exited the truck, careful to push the doors shut as quietly as they could. Tec and Stimp worked their way around the side of the house, ignoring spider webs in the dark while Fury walked straight to the front door. Inside, Kathy guided him to the kitchen window, where he could see the two bumbling idiots ranging back and forth in the dim light from the bare bulb outside the door. He opened it, raised his Smith & Wesson with the attached light, and hailed the two of them.
“Hey fellas, what’re you doing back here?” he said, adding volume to his query. He knew Tec and Stimp were at the corner, likely still out of sight.
The taller of the two howled an unintelligible, garbled screech, huffing a shower of blood-stained slime from his mouth. The crimson hue in his eyes revealed an empty soul, and as Fury began to press the trigger on his pistol, a bright flame spewed from Stimp’s FAL, followed immediately by the boom/clack of Tec’s Benelli shotgun. The .308 produced a spectacular haze of soft red clay from one creature’s head, and the slug from the Benelli created an implosion style wound at the jugular notch of the other. Both fell to the grass underfoot, and did not so much as twitch after.
Tec stuck a pinky in his ear, wriggling it in a feeble attempt to stop the ringing as they went inside.
“Ever think of getting a can for that thing?” he asked.
“What’s the fun of having a real battle rifle if it doesn’t go boom?” Stimp said, smiling.
The men heard several muffled screams from an upstairs room, and realized the function they’d just performed may not have been so well received by the women in the house. Kathy had half expected the action, knowing Fury the way she did; the others, well, not so much. She called for them to assemble in the living room, but Stimp changed their meeting to the upstairs after killing all the downstairs lights. He had a hunch that the less attention they drew to the house, the better off they’d be.
“Okay, girls, I guess it’s introduction time. You can call me Fury, this is Stimp, and the man with the Cheetos is Tec. For now, we’re going to hole up here and wait to see if we’re needed in the area.”
“Those aren’t your real names. There’s no way. Anyway, I’m Tonya.” said one of the women. Tonya stood five foot nine inches and was as thin as a rail, her slight frame hunched at the shoulders. She wore a loose fitting, gray t-shirt and light blue jogging pants with sandals beneath her delicate feet. She was cute enough, in a girl-next-door kind of way, but her attitude was not gaining favor with her disapproval of their use of nicknames.
Kathy stood with one hand on her round hip, gesturing at Michelle, the olive skinned Thai who could have passed as an underwear model; Swain, the auburn haired country girl with full lips and bright blue eyes; Taylor was a brunette, whose short hair framed a round face that matched her thick, full figure that spirited her across the tennis courts; Yolanda once graced the cover of Jet magazine, her hazel eyes and glossy lips accentuating the creamy, smooth mocha that covered her lithe body.
The men took a full minute to mentally undress and gain carnal knowledge of each woman, before setting about reinforcing the doors and windows by moving furniture in front of them. They chose a corner window on the front as an escape hatch, running over the hasty plan with the women in the event they were overrun. Testing the ease of negotiating the window sill, Fury jogged to the truck, hopped in, and backed it up to the window. He opened the sliding glass, which he was sure he could squeeze his five-eight, hundred thirty pound body through instead of using the driver’s door. The sound of the truck moving and the tailgate dropping was enough to stir up a little more trouble.
They came from across the street, where Stimp easily picked up on the movement from a second story window. He shouted to Fury to get inside before opening up with the FAL, scoring head shots with every other round on the ambling, stumbling figures in the low, yellowed light from the street lamps. Fury and Tec left the window open, and Tec volunteered to man the ground floor with his scattergun and six flats of shells placed strategically around the dining and living rooms. Stimp finished off the sixth beast, which fell forward mere feet from the Ford’s bumper, and they settled back in to wait. Fifteen minutes later the house was quiet, and Fury was just beginning to sidle up next to Kathy when his phone vibrated in his pocket.
I Hope There Aren’t Any Sharks out There
Raizo slipped his hand slowly under the elastic band of her panties, just far enough to feel the small tuft of pubic hair left tastefully intact. Back and forth, he massaged her pelvis, emphasizing pressure between the bony protrusions then running his fingers through to the inside of her slender, milky thighs. She shuddered beneath his touch, and flowed her mouth onto his, passion fueled by wine and the earlier wedding of her friend. He’d thought about joining her in the water earlier in the afternoon, but in his hurry to pack, he’d left his swim trunks in Texas. Through the merlot in her wet mouth, he detected something else; everyone belched now and again, and all at the party had eaten the catered food at the Oceanfront Hotel on Jekyll Island. Having vomited a time or two himself, at first he suspected it might be bile, but there was a hint of something more undesirable. As hot and engorged as he felt with her flesh in his hands, he had to halt forward progress until she was less likely to hurl her dinner on him.
“You want to take a break?” he asked the woman whose name he didn’t know.
There was no response. She continued moaning on her own, though he’d removed himself completely from her. He stood and walked to the edge of the surf, turning his nose at the smell of a nearby pulp mill, jostling his member and coaxing it back inside his boxer shorts. The half-moon gave enough light to see his surroundings easily, and his eyes had been adjusted to the low light for nearly an hour. Raizo turned to check on the girl, and started for her when it appeared she was asleep.
He knelt beside her and touched her shoulder, but was startled when she snarled and reached for his arm, clawing at his skin and sitting up. She opened her mouth and liquid rolled from it, a horrendous, fuming odor followed it, and she swung her head for his arm. He snatched away violently, seeing no white in her eyes, and realizing he was facing the shell of a bridesmaid who’d become a hellspawn. Raizo backpedaled furiously, but the creature sprang to its feet and lunged for him. He lashed out with a front kick that folded the slim framed non-woman and sent her to her butt in the sand, but only for a moment. Unarmed, clad only in a pair of red, polka-dotted cotton boxers, Raizo confronted his first zombie. He never thought it would be this way. He was supposed to have the benefit of forewarning. He should have at least two firearms, and perhaps a medieval melee weapon at his disposal, not empty hands and the remnants of an erection he’d nearly stuck in the crazy.
Raizo charged the creature, pounding its chest with alternating fists as hard as he could muster, slapping its arms down and away, and smashing its jaw when he could. Behind her, he caught a flash of darkness in the sand, a ten foot chunk of knotted, hardened driftwood, and he drove her to it with kicks and punches, and as they closed on the hunk of once-seaborne timber he dropped to a knee and hurled his shoulder at her hips. She reeled backward, cracking her vertebrae on the log and folding over it under his weight. Panting, he stood over the corpse, letting the adrenaline course through his veins and tighten his skin. As he turned to walk away, he realized it wasn’t over. With a broken back, the crazed fiend thrashed its arms and shook its head with all remaining strength until Raizo trapped its wrists and wrapped its arms around its own neck. He rolled her over and lifted the dead weight, cautiously keeping his hands away from her mouth, and shuffled to the end of the log where a branch jutted skyward and terminated in a point. With her mouth agape, he slammed her head onto the pike, driving it through her cranium and ending her hell. He fell breathless to the sand, praying the return of sanity.
When the air came back to him, he walked to the sheet where they’d been laying and retrieved his smartphone, which he’d secured inside a sturdy Ziploc bag. Taking the path through the dunes, he encountered a male zombie standing on the wooden walkway, and he froze. It was huge. Had to have been a bodybuilder before it was infected. At least six and a half feet tall and pushing three hundred pounds, Raizo padded backwards and took to the beach, jogging north until he reached the pier. From there he could see the lighthouse on Saint Simons. He quietly made his way to the parking lot, where lamps clouded the thick night air with their sick, amber light and revealing a cast of zombies meandering aimlessly among the vehicles there. He could make out a few bodies on the ground, their necks torn open but no longer bleeding. There was a handgun in his car at the hotel, but his odds of making it were slim. Caught out alone, he took the only open option.
Raizo swam for the lighthouse, pacing his strokes and clinging to the phone for dear life.
Just south of the Shops at Sea Island sat the Harrison Pointe subdivision. Overpriced real estate mated with a developer’s overenthusiasm, and borne of that affair was a typical, modern Saint Simons neighborhood. The homes, all well laid-out and spacious, were still close enough to hear your neighbor flush the toilet and yell at his kids, and the layout of houses along the street left little else to imagination in the design process. Bravo Team had the pleasure of starting their run in Harrison Pointe, which stretched west from Frederica Road to the marsh.
“Shelly, I want you to drive. Hickey, you stay in the truck and provide overwatch while we’re on foot.” said Smitty.
“Got it.” acknowledged the Coastie, hefting the M14.
“Why do I have to stay in the car?” Shelly asked. She wanted to stay with Smitty, to keep close to him.
“Your night had a hell of a start. You should take a break for a little bit.” Smitty replied.
“I’m a goddamn federal agent, not some cunt cheerleader.”
“Oh, shit.” commented Pit. The others were at a loss for words.
“Anyone else want to volunteer for driver duty? I spend hours a day in a patrol car, and I don’t feel like driving right now.”
“I drove three hours to get here,” said Strycnine, “I came to pop some heads.”
“Same here.” said Leland. “I’m ready to rock and roll.”
“Don’t look at me,” Pit said, “I think I lost my wallet. Had my license in it.” He punctuated by press checking his EAA Witness 10mm pistol and stuffing it back in the holster.
“Okay, assholes. Halfway through this neighborhood and one of you is driving. You don’t get to hog all the kills.” she interjected, slapping both mitts on the wheel.
Hickey took position in the bed with Pit, who was instructed by Smitty to keep his .308 caliber rifle out of doors during their tour. Inside, the pressure generated by the larger chambering would likely cause permanent hearing damage, which none of them wanted. Leland and Strycnine joined them in back, ready to dismount, while Smitty took the passenger seat. After the display of attitude, none of them really wanted to ride with Shelly until her afterburners cooled anyway.
The first few homes were cleared with relative ease as the team encountered both kinds of people they expected most. The first kind was generally receptive and yielded to Smitty’s badge and gift of gab; they allowed the men in to check for infected people and offer advice on the situation. The second kind were those who would only allow entry with a warrant. As members of AR180.net they fully understood, and chose not to push the issue; the recommendation to evacuate was passed along to those who didn’t have the means to defend their families. Every other house required prolonged knocking and kicking at the door due to the early morning hour, but eventually the resident would answer. It was soon to become a bad thing.
After ten houses or so, the banging and loud talking began to draw the zombies out of homes and from behind fences and landscaping. Smitty approached the front door with Strycnine, while Pit and Leland walked the sides of the house near the end of the one hundred block. There were no lights on, save the bulb at the front door and two at the garage. Smitty started by ringing the doorbell, and was initially encouraged by the shadow of a woman at the top of the stairs, silhouetted by moonlight from a second floor window. Her night gown flowed from side to side as she started off the top of the landing, but he could hear the thud of body on wood when she began to tumble head over heels, smacking and pounding the way down. She landed in a ball on her side, just a few feet from the door. Smitty switched on the flashlight mounted in the fore end of his shotgun, and lighted the vestibule through the narrow window adjacent to the door, and he frowned. He could see the discharge smeared across her face.
“What was that?” called Pit.
“Zombie fell down, went boom.” replied Strycnine, eliciting a chuckle from Smitty.
Their humor faded like the light from a blown bulb as the woman rose and flung herself at the window, splintering the inside pane. Smitty recoiled, leveling the shotgun at her, waiting for the threat to increase. If he could avoid the noise he would, remembering the episode on the bridge and how the gunfire seemed to act like a magnet to the creatures. He looked to Strycnine who was raising his .300 Blackout, only for a fraction of a second, but it was enough time for the beast bitch to smash through the second pane and reach his muzzle.
Well, she asked for it.
Smitty pushed the cross-block safety off and slapped the trigger, sending a load of double-ought buck up through her armpit and into her face. It was sufficient to push her back a couple feet, and he used the interim to jack another round into the chamber and tuck the stock firmly to his shoulder, taking square aim at her head. At a distance of eighteen inches, he loosed the next round, blasting away half her dead head. She fell to the floor in a heap, bubbles from her shorn esophagus reminding Strycnine of a crab’s dying breaths. The noise from the shotgun had indeed started the beasts moving in their direction, evidenced by the scattered muzzle flash and steady report of Hickey’s M14.
“Coming up the street!” Shelly yelled.
They ran back to the pickup, taking up alongside it, and began slinging lead at the bumbling but relentless advance. From side yards and shadows they came, some faster than others, hastening their own second deaths by getting ahead. None were able to get within fifty yards, facing the accurate shots from the truck, but in the barrage of rifle fire, the team forgot to keep an eye to the rear. Shelly had been holding her foot on the brake, and caught sight of movement in the rear view, a rickety dance of three shapes bathed in red moving up from behind. She threw the shifter in park and shouted, “Six o’clock!” while rolling out the door and drawing her Glock. Leland spun, lighting the bastards with his rifle’s flashlight and taking aim, while Shelly drew a bead and Hickey, almost too late, ran his magazine dry. Hickey let the M14 drop to its sling, drew his 9mm Beretta and fired, simultaneously with Shelly and Leland, and they drove the bipedal meat bags off a few meters before putting hot rounds in their heads. Hickey reloaded his rifle and returned his attention to the front, where the team was finishing off the small mob, and Shelly and Leland kept their eyes on the street to the east.
An envelope of quiet closed on Harrison Pointe Drive after the echo of Pit’s last shot. Strycnine shuffled forward with Smitty as cover, using the ultra-smooth flavor of the Blackout to finalize their nasty business; the sound of the bolt carrier cycling was only slightly louder than the casings as they clinked to the asphalt. When they were done, it was time to regroup and reconsolidate what ammo they could. Punching holes in decaying skulls took more bullets than everyone thought, as it seemed some of the zombies were physically more capable than others. Smitty was curious about it, and after they’d all topped off magazines, he had them fan out beside him to keep him covered as Shelly fell in beside.
“Notice anything?” he asked, keeping his voice low.
“These here, closest to the truck, were moving faster than the rest.”
They eased through the fallen swarm, and they arrived at the difference at the same time.
“Further back in the group,” Shelly noted, “the fatter they are.”
“Yeah. The ones that made it the farthest looked like runners or cyclists, like they kept in shape before they were infected. What do you think the odds are the faster you can move when you’re healthy, the faster you can move once you turn into a sausage dummy?”
“I’d say pretty good. Maybe that heifer from CDC will have an idea soon.”
“Why does she have to be a heifer?”
“What, you didn’t notice her tits?” Shelly asked.
“I wasn’t thinking about her tits, babe, but I’m glad you can appreciate a nice rack.”
“My sarcasm meter should be spiking right about now, but it’s not.”
“Good, because I wasn’t being sarcastic.”
She slugged his arm and smiled. They regrouped at the truck, and started for the command post. If there had been any more of the beasts in the open, the ruckus in the street should have drawn them out. They’d return to the neighborhood after consulting with the brass and Doctor Collins, reporting their contact and what they’d seen.
Haven for Hellions
Charlie Team consisted of Splash, Arc, Niquorice, Trojan, Medic, Van, and Officer Conley from the Sterling P.D. They drove north from The Shops, after rigging a series of 3/16 inch nylon ropes to the safari rack atop Splash’s Tahoe. Conley, Van, and Splash rode on the rack, with Trojan at the wheel so Splash could keep high and use the extra range and lethality of his LR308. The rest hung their muzzles out the windows, eyes open for zombies.
They didn’t make it far into the Glynn Haven neighborhood before the excrement was cast into the air circulation device.
Splash said through the open sunroof, which he was using as an impromptu gunner’s hatch, “Hold.”
Trojan slowed the truck to a stop.
Trojan and Arc caught the movement at the curve in Sylvan Boulevard, watching as the bratwurst with legs flopped to the sidewalk in front of Salon 16. The round passed through its head and punched a hole in the shop’s glass, setting off the alarm which pierced the quiet, dank air.
“Overpenetration is a motherfucker.” said Conley.
Van reminded the team that in Doctor Collins’ brief overview of the infection the creatures were drawn by sound. Quite naturally the louder the sound, the further it carried; in the case of Charlie Team, the alarm could not have sounded at a more inopportune time, but they wouldn’t know it just yet. For the moment, they held their position just a few yards west of Frederica Road. The single zombie Splash destroyed seemed to be the only one nearby. Trojan held the brake for a few minutes, then they decided to press on and round the curve that would take them behind Frederica Café and the offices to which it was attached.
On the starboard side, Arc and Medic opened up in volley fire, the result a staccato of slamming, pounding concussions that tore into the mob of seventy-odd head of meat bags pouring out the back door of the café. They’d been hungry, and migrated to the deli, drawn by the aroma of meat and bread, and when the alarm went off around the corner it had been like the tune of the Pied Piper calling them into the back lot. Before Trojan could get the Tahoe to a standstill, their rounds were less than ideally placed, and only scored body hits that pushed the front of the crowd back, stuffing the bulk of the mob back against the wall and around the Dumpster. Once stopped, Splash, Van, and Conley started transferring bullets at a rapid rate into as many heads as they could manage, while Trojan and Niquorice kept watch to the west. The combination of rifle fire and alarm claxon was indeed pulling even more two-legged, kielbasa-filled scarecrows from the neighborhood. After several of Niquorice’s casings fell into Trojan’s collar, he used his off hand to flip it up, cursing himself for leaving the boonie hat at home.
For some reason, all five men firing at the café ran their magazines empty at the same time. They’d never met before, never practiced together, and had not discussed communicating while shooting. While Trojan was pulling a 5.56mm casing melted to the skin on his neck, Niquorice took advantage of the lull in fire to shout, “MOVE!” as a horde of creatures began to surround the truck.
“Hang on!” yelled Trojan, letting off the brake and goosing the motor, folding three of the bone bags under the brush guard.
“Is there any high ground?” asked Van.
“Go right at the stop sign, left on the main road. Right at the light, into the parking lot.” said Conley, remembering his way around. It was the closest place that vaguely resembled high ground, if you could call five and a half feet above sea level high.
Trojan, mindful of his upstairs cargo, smoothly rounded the corners and followed Conley’s directions. They pulled a u-turn to face back to the west where they’d come from, slapping in fresh magazines and keeping at the high ready. Trojan shifted into park while they decided their next move, and as he stepped out the driver’s door he smelled something burning. A chef by trade, he instantly recognized the aroma of charred meat. He drew the Springfield .45 single action from the Kydex leg holster and lowered the safety lever, taking aim at two hitchhikers clinging to the brush guard. Remembering the doc’s advice on noise, he backed away, realizing the zombies were no longer capable of walking. He turned to Niquorice and motioned with his hand after holstering the 1911.
Two years before, Trojan attended a cooking competition in Las Vegas. He’d made the second to last cut, but was beaten by a pair of the most asinine, obnoxious, play-to-the-camera drama queens he’d ever seen in a kitchen. As one of several consolation prizes he was given a cartoonish wall decoration in the form of a four foot meat tenderizer crafted from solid aluminum. It had more reach than the largest kitchen knife and was sure to pulverize anything he hit with it. He took it from Niquorice and walked to the front of the Tahoe, raising the serrated sledge overhead. Splash, Van, and Conley scooted to the front of the rack to observe.
The first hit saw the mallet’s head land squarely on the nose of the male form, changing the head from somewhat round to a grotesque, concave, mishmash of shit-colored brain matter and bone. Surprisingly light for its size, Trojan hefted it again and brought it down with all available speed on the other male zombie, catching its eye socket with the corner of MeatHammer’s face, tearing skull and contents away and burrowing an inch and a half into the bitumen below. Neither beast moved again, but Trojan checked the undercarriage to make sure there were no more hangers-on.
Charlie Team felt they had enough ammo to continue the mission, but they would consult with Conley on the next incursion into Glynn Haven in the interest of escape avenues and lure strategy. Conley, of a sudden, found a couple tricks up his sleeve.
From the Top Down
Following directions on the borrowed GPS, Coop found the way to Hampton Point with Oscar riding shotgun, the magnificently inverted mane on his face bristling in the sultry breeze. Guns, Davey and UGA sat in the bed, and they’d limited their team to five members to keep extra room for ammunition. Loosely, their plan was to make the gate house at Hampton Plantation and go door to door, checking on folks and passing the bad word. The guard at the shack was inclined to call D.C. by cell phone when he noticed the heavily armed men in the long wheelbase Chevy four-by, visibly shaking as he held the plastic link to the outside world against his sweaty face. D.C. assured him the men were operating under the direction of the Sterling Police Department, after which he buzzed the gate open and breathed a sigh of relief at not having to make a real decision.
It would be nearly an hour before Delta Team called to check in using Tec’s radio to inform the other units that Hampton Plantation was clear of infected. Jogging from house to house, they quickly met huddled groups of residents who’d somehow already known about the situation. The majority were forming small units of their own, stashing wives and children and taking up in abbreviated squads to patrol their properties and keep watch. The neighborhood did not look like the type wherein one would find survival-minded people in such numbers, but at that point in the game, Delta Team could hardly be surprised. The two sets of condominiums at the extreme north end of Saint Simons Island were likewise secure, so the team was directed to leave the area and redeploy just south of the roundabout at Frederica Road and Lawrence Road. As Coop slowed on approach to the brick section under the transplanted tree at the roundabout, the team took note of the horse stables located there. It would make a decent fall back point, as the natural terrain was higher than the roadways, and there were multiple buildings to scale and use as observation platforms.
Coop idled onto street after street, where Delta found most homes with the lights off. They remained in the truck, thinking to listen for disturbances and go to one if it could be pinpointed. There were simply too many homes for the team to go door to door in that area.
“Too quiet, dude.” said Oscar.
“I’m thinking the same thing.” Coop replied.
Davey stuck his head through the sliding glass and said, “Get back out on the main road and cut the engine. We’ll hear better that way.”
Coop obliged, stopping on the sidewalk at Frederica and North Harrington. Crickets and the occasional bullfrog sounded their dissonant voices, filling the air, but soon the mugginess was broken by the shrill, blood curdling scream of a woman accompanied by the crash of plate windows breaking.
“South, south, go!” said Guns.
At which point, Senior Master Gunnery Command Tech Sergeant Murphy promptly broke it off in Delta’s ass. Coop turned the key, but there seemed to be a disconnect between his furious will to start the truck and its own will to do anything more than make an annoying ticking sound. They shouted a collective, “Fuck!” and dismounted the dead Chevy, jogging along the sidewalk with their tac vests bobbing up and down, jostling and compressing their spines with each footfall. Delta reached Bennie’s Red Barn in a little under three minutes, with Oscar’s heavy portage in tow, to find a gaggle of once-dead meat puppets climbing and clamoring to make it over the window sill and into the restaurant. One by one, the voracious creatures tumbled over the sill, heading for something the team couldn’t see.
“Well,” said Guns, surprisingly only slightly out of breath for packing 230 pounds on a six foot frame, “fuckin’ light ‘em up!”
The volley began, taking heads from the outer perimeter of zombies, the overstated report of Guns’ short-barreled MK18 playing second banjo to Oscar’s AR10, which puffed his enormous beard with every discharge. Every head shot Oscar made produced a plume of clay-red goo, showering nearby hellions with brain matter and distracting them from whatever they sought inside Bennie’s. Davey’s AK-74 and the AR-15 in Coop’s hands took multiple rounds on target to destroy some of the creatures. There wasn’t time for an at-scene examination of wound ballistics; it took much less time to simply press the trigger again, and none of them needed lessons on why to carry as many extra magazines as possible. From the corner of his eye, Guns saw UGA watching their six o’clock, and returned his attention to the maw. The rifle fire and sound of bodies dropping was underscored by screams and pleas for help emanating from the barn, and the team closed on the window as the last zombie outside hit the gravel. In their passion to cleanse the parking lot of staggering pus mannequins, they’d lost sight of UGA and his Remington 870, which he’d apparently run dry along with his Smith and Wesson 9mm. The handgun was in the rocks and he was using the 870 as a bat, swinging left and right, alternating strikes to the heads of two bitches who’d made it through his loads of buckshot and 9mm. A small herd of prone kielbasa dummies lay in front of him, with portions of their upper bodies missing and strewn in the white gravel.
Davey pulled his Glock 19 and Oscar his Sig P220, and skirted UGA until each was within a few feet of a zombie, placing one shot each into a battered, lacerated skull. With the immediate threat reduced, UGA recovered his handgun and slammed home a fresh magazine, and began stuffing shells from his vest into the 870.
“Why didn’t you say we had action back there?” asked Davey.
“I did. I was yelling at the top of my damn lungs and shooting everything I had.”
“Next time, back into one of us and yell right into the ear, okay?” Guns said.
“Maybe next time I’ll just shoot with everyone else and one of us can get their ass—“ said UGA, but he was interrupted by the wail of several as-of-yet uninfected persons inside the barn.
Delta stacked at the window sill with UGA and his scattergun on point, most useful if a hungry half-dead decided to poke its head out. He switched on his weapon light and swept it through the interior, mentally mapping the joint and taking notes.
“I’ve got a group to the right, about fifteen meters from the front, at the bottom of the stairs. Looks like someone’s blocked the stairs with furniture. On the left I spotted three at the bar.”
“Y’all give me some light on the ones at the stairs.” said Oscar, rotating his selector lever. His team members took the cue, and used compact but powerful beams to shower the bumbling bastards in a cascade of blues and whites.
It appeared the commotion of Delta’s parking lot slaughter was not juicy enough to pull the remainder of the horde from their quest to feed on those inside the barn and the food in the kitchen. A jumble of wooden chairs and a couple of tables were lodged at the bottom of the roughhewn stairs, presenting a sufficient hurdle to keep all but the most capable heathens, two of which were slim and athletic and scaling the obstacle. The rest made easy fodder for the twenty round magazine in Oscar’s rifle. Each shot crumpled or otherwise deactivated one of the monsters, and soon the team mounted the window sill and approached the stairs. More cries for help rang out inside the barn as the team reached the tangle of wooden furnishings, and UGA used the 870 to administer a large bore IV of double aught buck to the sausage socks who hit the deck after being bludgeoned with table legs by the hardy souls at the top of the heap.
Davey turned his light to the bar, where UGA had seen a few of the zoned out former denizens. Alerting the team to this, he pulled Guns and Coop to assist in clearing the other sections. They found the bar empty, but on entering the kitchen they found a mass of blathering idiots consumed by consuming the lavish quantities of beef stationed in the refrigerators. Apparently, they had enough fine motor skills to pull the latches on the reefers, but the presence of three uninfected men was not enough to draw their attention away from the raw, marbled cuts of cattle. They, too, made for easy pickings and were dispatched in seconds. Out of the kitchen, Davey led through a heavy, wooden sliding door into the adjacent bar and dance floor that was deserted. The three of them returned to the stairs where UGA was laughing out loud with Oscar. In the midst of death and destruction, those two had found amusement.
“What’s funny?” asked Coop.
“Look, look at his shirt.” said UGA, gesturing at a male of the unwelcome species.
“I don’t get it.” Coop returned.
The remnant of a man on the floor wore a red t-shirt emblazoned with a church logo. It was supposed to read, “Fundamental Apostolic Rock of Christ.”
The only letters visible after UGA’s center mass hits were F, u, A, and Rock.
“Man, fuck arock.” said Davey.
In one of those moments between the hell of biology gone wrong and not knowing if they’d make it home alive, UGA found humor that only a few would understand.
They turned back to those on the second floor, and started to part their way up the stairs. A few minutes of shuffling got them a single file path to the top, where they met with perhaps thirty people who’d made their way to the barn from nearby houses. Quietly, they began to formulate an evacuation plan, but they were hushed by the sound of more shit-eaters falling through the window. All but one of the residents were already seated, and the team took up positions along the banister, low through the rails and drawing beads on the six new targets. Evidently, the smell of raw meat coupled with fresh kills in the kitchen was appetizing enough to draw them there. The huddled crowd upstairs was safe for the moment, with no air circulating to send their smell downstairs and no sound to direct the beasts them.
Davey whispered, “Who’s got the radio?”
“Shit.” said Coop.
“It’s in the truck.”
“Goddamn it.” hissed Oscar. “Who’s going for it? And when you get there, snag me some more .308 mags, I’m down to two.”
Rock, paper, scissors was employed until UGA was selected to make a break for the truck and the radio, without which they had no way to call the other teams for help extracting the people in the barn. More sausagemobiles filtered in and began milling about in the main hall, cutting off the route through the front window. Looking around, he eased the wooden interior shutters open and pried open a side window, lowering his body enough to rest his feet on an air conditioning unit. Coop handed the 870 down to him, and UGA commenced his run to the truck. The team had agreed to give him twenty minutes to get there and back before shooting their way out and leading the residents away from the barn, with the nearby Sea Palms golf course as a destination where they would have the zombies in the open, making for easier shots.
He started in a wide circle south that brought him west and to the street. He crossed and hunkered down for a minute in the brush, listening for sounds of movement in his direction. When UGA thought the street was clear, he took up jogging on the shoulder. Encountering no resistance, he reached the Chevy and retrieved the radio from the middle of the seat before climbing into the bed and quickly filling a black nylon bag with magazines for the .308, 5.56mm, and Davey’s AK-74. The return trip brought him back to the barn, where he scaled the A/C unit and passed up the 870 and ammo bag, and jumped to grasp Davey’s and Coop’s hands so they could drag him back inside.
“Delta to Charlie, you copy?” Davey asked quietly. He’d turned the speaker volume down, to avoid attention from nature’s abortions walking around below.
“Charlie, go ahead.” came the reply, the echoes of gunfire in the background.
“We need extraction. Our truck is out of service, and we’ve got hostiles in the building with us. I don’t know where they’re coming from, but they just keep showing up. We’re laying low with about thirty people, and we could use a bus or other large vehicle.”
“Charlie is engaged at this time, cannot respond. We are surrounded on a rooftop.”
Strycnine’s voice came over the air, “Bravo is RTB. Resupplying now, will redeploy in the Jolly Green Machine. Where are you, Delta?”
“The place is called Bennie’s Red Barn.” said Davey.
There was a pause of about ten seconds before Strycnine replied.
“ETA is ten minutes, Delta.”
“Pull alongside the south wall. We can manage extraction through a second floor window.”
“Bravo copies, out.”
Five stretched to ten, and ten to fifteen before Delta could hear the whine of a diesel engine and knobbed tires on the road. After breathing the stench of putrefied flesh in the interim, the team was ready for some fresh air.
“I don’t know why we haven’t yet.” Kathy said.
“I mean, we’ve hung out so many times, and I always try to get you to go out with me but it just seems to never pan out.” said Fury. “I feel like I’m doing something wrong.”
“Fury…to be honest with you,” she started.
“Is it because I’m Asian? If it is, I won’t hold it against you. People have their preferences, and I’ll understand if you simply don’t find my features attractive.”
“That’s not it. I think you’re cute and all, and I love your personality; you are an absolute blast to party with. You’re clean cut, your hair is fantastic, you keep your nails clean, and your clothes are always so awesome we thought you were gay.”
Gay? Had the woman insinuated he was not the prime cut of Grade A man-cake he knew he was?
“I hate to break it to you, Karen, but I’m not gay. If it’s any consolation, I pictured you in some lesbian activity with Swain...” he said, hoping for a chuckle.
“You’re not gay?” she asked, perplexity coating her face like faded paint.
“No again. Not gay. Why is it so hard for you to believe?”
“We had a bet going.”
Insulted for mere microseconds, he surmounted the jab and countered.
“How much was the bet, and which side were you on?”
“The ‘likes to see other guys naked’ side, for two hundred dollars.” Karen responded, her countenance insecure and rife with strain.
The awkwardness in their banter was due more to her core desire to avoid confrontation than his irritation at being misjudged for so long. Hailing from the same locale and floating in the same social circles had had the two meeting several times a month, and during those encounters he’d tried his damnedest to get her out to dinner, a show, the park, or anything involving more time leading to an eventual individual pie-eating contest followed by his conquest of Karen. What it boiled down to was a light-hearted quip and a demonstration of longing.
“Want to make two hundred dollars?” said Fury.
“Trying to make me feel like a prostitute now?”
“I’ve been sitting here with you, with your hand on my thigh for ten minutes. If I were inclined to the unbalanced equation, I wouldn’t be sporting an erection like this.” he said, gesturing to his crotch.
Karen stole a glance there, and noticed it for herself. He wasn’t in the porn star champion league, but neither did she require such equipment. She leaned forward and accepted his lips, pulling his hands around her waist and letting them run roughshod across her back and neck. He pulled her onto his lap, tilting her buttocks under and onto his pulsating hardness. Fury drowned in the fullness of her soft mouth, sucking the heat from it, feeling her nipples harden in his caress and marveling in the pliability of her bosom.
Then his fucking cell phone vibrated. Normally he’d have ignored it, but it presented the very real possibility of a chance at saving lives. It was a conundrum few men had genuinely faced.
“I need you to make your way down to the pier. There’s a site member got himself marooned and can’t get to safety. Look for a half-naked man perched on an old wooden piling.”
“Who is this?” asked Fury.
“Dixie. I’m with The Group.”
“Right, okay. We’ll get moving right away. I don’t have anything to arm him with, so we’ll take him to the marshaling area if we can get to him.”
“Good deal, son.” said Dixie before ending the call.
Son? Fury had only known two people who’d called him son, and neither of them had been on the other end of the call. Dixie’s gruff, southern drawl grated on Fury’s ears, but it was hardly the time to make an issue of it. He excused himself from Karen’s magnetic hold, and found Stimp and Tec pulling guard duty downstairs. He briefed them on the fragmentary order he’d received, and they decided to leave a weapon with the girls while they were gone. Back in the upstairs master bedroom, they polled the girls to determine fitness for duty. Yolanda eyed the Benelli SuperNova hanging from Tec’s shoulder.
“Can you work this?” asked Tec, noting her interest.
“My Daddy’s is camouflaged, he uses it hunting turkeys and doves. He made sure I knew how to use it.”
“I can work this bitch, mister.”
He slipped the shotgun from his shoulder and passed it to her. Keeping the muzzle pointed away from the rest of them, she pulled the charging handle back about an inch, and let it go after seeing the brass casing of a round in the chamber. She pushed the safety off, then on again to make sure. Tec relieved himself of a bandoleer and handed it to her, as well. Satisfied with arming a capable woman, the team crawled out the front window and mounted the green Ford four-door, Tec using his two free hands to take the wheel. The girls gave him directions to the pier, and he started the motor. They eased into the street with no lights, unsure if it would aid in attracting fewer zombies, but taking the chance nonetheless. There were plenty of street lamps to light the way.
They turned the corner onto Mallery Street and kept the speed down. Stimp instantly picked up movement at the end of the street, catching sight of a few walking meat bags that were stumbling from side streets and heading south to the corner of Mallery and Butler. Tec let the Ford idle down the gentle slope as they passed the Rafters pub and a hardware store. Fury and Stimp were encouraged when the pus dummies didn’t show interest in the truck, but as they rolled through the stop sign at Butler Avenue, they realized there were more than a few Zeds in the area they’d entered.
Things were about to get real interesting real quick.
“Like…like Christmas in July, yeah.”
Big Bill had been on the water for a few hours, out of sight and out of mind for a particular purpose. That purpose was currently a six-foot-three-inch blonde with a forty-four inch upper deck; tall as she was, the DD cup size she carried was currently swinging to and fro as Bill had his way, knees locked, back arched, and her palms planted on the bow. They were coupling after sandwiches and wine on the open water, five miles out, when Bill’s phone blared with a balmy but irritating country tune.
“God dang it. Motherfuckers can’t let a brother get a piece in peace.”
She groaned ahead of his violent thrusting, but reached to the deck and plucked his phone from their clothing pile. She knew Smitty was aware they were out testing the boat for the FLETC Marine and Driver Division, and when she saw the caller ID she handed the touch screen device to the impossibly tall man behind her. Then she resumed pushing back against him, hoping to sustain the intimacy.
“I’m pretty sure you’re balls deep in it by now, but I need you to do something for me.”
“If you were anyone else, I’d tell you to go find some donkey nuts to suck. Is it urgent?” Bill asked.
“Yes.” said Smitty.
Smitty was usually more talkative, never letting one word do when ten would get the job done more eloquently.
“Alright, let me see if I can finish up here and I’ll get back under way.”
Smitty relayed a few simple instructions, after being assured the boat had enough fuel to stay operating through the next several hours, and Bill plunged into the rangy blonde with renewed vigor. The intense concentration required for him to climax after half a bottle of Chardonnay started a river of sweat running down his shaved chest, and during release he pushed so hard her sweaty hands slipped from the rounded surface of the bow. The woman found herself pitching head first into the dark, briny drink. Athletic as he, she rolled with it and somersaulted beneath the surface and reached up to grab Bill’s already outstretched hand.
“Damn, girl. I’m sorry.” he said, handing her a towel.
“Fucked me right out of the boat. Never had that happen before.” she commented.
“First for me, too. Do you need me to drop you back at Two Way? I’ll leave you the keys to the Jeep, you can head on home if you want.”
“I’m hanging with you. Sounds like it could be fun.”
Bill pulled on his shorts and deck shoes, and started the two Mercury 8.2 liter inboard engines, and the Impact 1200 rocketed toward the north end of Saint Simons. The tide was in, and at its height the sea was calm and smooth for the ride, save a few swells as they neared the marsh. Bill navigated to the deep water dock at the marsh edge of the retreat occupied by The Group. 3 and 4 met him, catching the lines tossed by the girl and lashing the thirty-nine foot aluminum hulled inflatable boat to the dock.
“Hey, fellas. I’m supposed to pick up some equipment I suppose.”
“Yes. How sturdy is that transom?” asked 3.
“Pretty tough. The factory rep said it can hold eight men and their gear, ready to roll off the side. It’s three-quarter inch aluminum plate.” Bill replied. He was parroting the sales pitch from the rep, but from spending most of the night on the boat, he felt it was well suited to police and military functions.
3 and 4 hefted an assembly that was roughly four feet by four feet, a sandwich of aluminum with springs and midget gas-charged shocks in between. With a fair amount of labor, it was laid on the transom, and the two men began loading black duffel bags and green military ammo cans that were obviously full of goodies onto the deck forward of the enclosed cabin. The last item to be loaded came in three pieces. Bill had not served in the military, but he recognized the MK19 grenade launcher immediately. After they secured the launcher to the mount at the bow, 3 began the loading procedures and lined up ammunition cans on the deck next to the hull chambers. 4 retreated to the stern and started attaching the sandwich to the transom with an impact wrench and huge, industrial-grade self-tapping lag bolts. Bill saw what he thought was a rocket launcher among the gear in the weak light of the dock lamps, but he wasn’t sure. 3 told him it was time to get back offshore, so the woman cast off the lines and he found a tributary to pull a three-point turn and head back toward the sea. By the time they reached open water, Bill could see that 4 had mounted a tube to the sandwich, and was prepping a row of mortar rounds and setting them in one of the gear bags.
“Is that what I think it is?” he called out.
“Yep.” replied 4. “The buoys are precisely mapped along the coastline, which you probably know. This mortar is capable of hitting anything on the island. For now let’s just get out there and see what we can see. I understand there’s a thermal imager on this craft?”
“Yeah. There’s a camera system mounted to the cabin roof, similar to what they put on helicopters.”
“Doctor Collins said the infected will show up on thermal, but they should be significantly dimmer than a normal person. Let’s see what we can do from close in, and we’ll save the high angle ordnance for when it’s called for.” 4 said.
Bill began turned the craft in a northerly direction, heading for Sea Island, where he was advised the infection was first encountered. Along the beach, here and there, they were able to spot zeds fishing in the bushes and randomly walking along the sand. 3 pivoted the MK19, and began ranging, single shots until he vaporized two of the beasts in the open. He wasn’t an overly excitable man, but Janet could see a smile on his face in the moonlight. 4’s earpiece came alive, and inside the wheelhouse, he directed Bill to proceed to the pier at the south end of Saint Simons where a situation was brewing. Nine hundred horsepower was put to work pushing the thirty-nine foot vessel over the gently rolling sea, and as he slowed coming alongside the lighthouse, he yanked hard to port to pull away from the pier. There was rifle fire pitting the water ahead, and they could see a green Ford pickup bouncing through Neptune Park, muzzle flashes staining their eyes and warning them away.
“Ask your boss what the hell we’re supposed to do! I ain’t driving this tub over there,” he said, “not while they’re sending rounds past the pier.”
“Stand by,” said 4, “I’m trying to get through to the guys in the truck.”
4 was silent for a few moments, then asked Bill for his phone number, which he passed to Dixie, who forwarded it to Tec. Shortly Bill was connected to Tec, who was driving a circuit around the Casino building and coming back around from the parking lot.
“What have you got over there, man?” asked Bill.
“There’s a guy supposed to be hanging on to one of the pilings. Can you get to him? There are too many infected in the park for us to stop and get out. Every pass we make, we get a few, but every time we come through, there seem to be even more. To add to it, there’s a crowd of them outside that bar, and there’s a group of people who look like they’re holed up on the balcony.”
“Hang on. Make a circle, but quit shooting out over the water. I don’t want to get ventilated out here, okay?”
“Deal. We’ll cease fire and take a lap. Just get him if you can.” said Tec.
The crack of rifle rounds passing nearby stopped, and Bill eased the boat closer to the pier where, using the remote activated searchlight, they found the man. He wore red boxer shorts, and was sitting on the almost rotten piling left over from the old pier structure. They put the starboard bow against the piling and took Raizo on board, backing away and informing Tec of their catch. Bill swung the bow around and pulled out into deeper water south of the concrete pier, and as he made for the closest buoy, 4 hailed him and told him to turn around. He’d spotted a man and a child on top of a concrete pillar, crouching, huddled together. Bill again turned the boat around, and with the light he spotted the pair as well. As they got closer, he recognized them as a regular shark fisherman and his son, and gladly sidled up against the wooden buffer. They jumped down onto the foredeck just as a swaggering meat bag lunged at the rail above their heads. 3 aimed the MK19 and cut one round loose. It was too close for the fuse to activate, but the weight and velocity were sufficient to cave in the bastard’s chest and send it tumbling. Bill pegged the throttles open, and made a break for Manhead Sound, where they would try to offload their new passengers.
Tec received the news and directions to Gascoigne Park, where they might be able to stop and retrieve the two men and the boy. They’d have to worry about the people at the bar later.
Sardines Hit the Road…Let the Bodies Hit the Floor
Smitty and Shelly sat out for the rescue. With the report of up to thirty people trapped in the Red Barn with Delta Team, Strycnine would need all the extra room available for passengers. During its day, the M35A2 could handle about twenty troops and their equipment, so thirty civilians with no gear would be no stretch. Following Smitty’s precise directions, they saw the Sea Palms check-in office and began to slow, rolling past the nursery and into the gravel lot of the Barn where Strycnine came to a stop beneath a second floor window with a woman’s flailing arms poking out. Bravo Team had already discussed a tentative plan that had removed the vinyl cover and left Pit and Hickey to climb atop the cab with their .308 rifles, ready to push back any of the pasty faced sausage men who got close at the rear and sides. Leland would clamber out onto the hood and cover to the front with his AR-15.
As they expected, the bipedal meat bags began to stroll in from the area. The diesel engine wasn’t the quietest thing in the neighborhood, and it seemed the extra noise created by people dropping onto the cab and climbing down into the bed was enough to draw zeds from inside the barn as well. Several fumbled back over the window sill to come back outside where the ruckus was, after finding their way to the second floor blocked by furniture. The three most stubborn zombies still inside made it halfway to the top, which Coop and Oscar allowed before demonstrating the lethality of a 230 grain bullet to the softened noggins of shit-filled leftovers of humanity.
Outside, Pit was hammering the zeds as they rounded the front right corner in single file, making things easy. Hickey finished off a few more that wandered in from the nursery, having dialed the power of his scope down to three and picking heads apart with 127 grains of screaming, copper-jacketed murder. Leland had but one ruined organism to deal with, but her morbidly obese form required not one, not two, but three bullets to the face before falling down and rolling onto her side, a thick arm flung upward by her rotating mass.
All that cracking, booming, and diesel idling inevitably attracted another throng of pus sacks that began to fill the parking lot from around the opposite side of the Barn. When the last Delta member hopped down into the bed, Strycnine threw the tranny into reverse and cut left, swinging the truck around and aiming it back at the main road. This time the noise was too much for the horde to ignore.
Shouts from Delta alerted Strycnine to a massive throng of noodle-legged, rotting idiots storming the lot, those in back pushing the front and on occasion causing slower examples to fall. The sturdier in the crowd trampled the less agile underfoot, which provided a moment of humor; Coop actually laughed out loud until he realized Strycnine was fumbling the transmission into first gear and giving the flock of featherless turkeys the time needed to reach the bed of the M35.
Delta began emptying fresh magazines into ruined faces, their combined muzzle flashes tripping the daylight sensor on the nearest street lamp. Alternating blasts of light highlighted the canoeing of skullcaps, but the gangrene gang had grown so quickly the team was caught in mid-stroke changing magazines, and to a man they’d reverted to their pistols before Strycnine finished loosing a thorough string of profanities that was so thick it barely floated into the soggy, dank night air.
Pleas from the bed helped him jam the stick with renewed vigor, and he felt the shifter slip forward. Pinning the accelerator, he not-so-slowly released the clutch and felt the truck lurch forward in the gravel and roll out, crushing several bags of bone in the process and dragging a few others. As the M35 met the pavement, two once-dead fiends made the poor decision to hang on the tail gate. No one remembered seeing it before, but from thin air it seemed UGA produced a Titleist six iron and began perforating their skulls until they ceased to function and fell to the roadway, shouting, “EAT IT, BITCH!”. The corpses skidded along the asphalt and left fleshy, slimy trails to their terminus. Once away from the Barn, Delta reloaded and readied for more by stuffing their vests with spare magazines from a wooden crate in the bed.
They’d be glad they did.
Charlie Team, following the recommendation of Officer Conley, pulled Splash’s Tahoe alongside a multi-use building that fronted on Palmetto Street. It was a single story structure with a sizeable roof area, giving Charlie a large tract of real estate from which to pick off the former island citizens. Shot by shot, well aimed and more like target practice than enemy engagement, they created enough noise to draw the demons to their shooting gallery. What they didn’t realize was just how far the sound carried in the night air. Beast upon beast soon descended on their position, and Niquorice used their radio to call for support within ten minutes.
It was a scant few minutes before Strycnine pulled up and allowed Delta to mount the roof from the cab. They passed up ammunition as they did, allowing a longer holdout while Strycnine took the passengers to the Command Post for evacuation. By the time he returned, the men on the roof had run through enough rounds to cut the Chinese Army down to size. Bodies were piled upon bodies, forcing the truck to a twenty degree angle when he lined it up next to the building. He grabbed his .300 Blackout and climbed up, turning to lay waste to the scavenging meatwads that formed a rank of desecrated humanity around the M35. Charlie stopped firing, one member at a time, and collected their empty magazines and filed to the Tahoe and slipped in through the sunroof. Once they were in, Strycnine collected the rest of Bravo, and the two teams headed for the Command Post to rearm and reorganize.
Tec steered the Ford truck in a circle, and left the tailgate pointed to the dock and backed up to it. With the tide at its height, the aluminum ramp with sandpaper patches was only at a slight angle to the floating concrete structure to which the boats were secured. Stimp and Fury dismounted, their rifles hanging on slings, and padded quietly down the ramp to meet Bill and the Group members. A boat exhibition recently left the dock full, and Bill was not able to sidle the test boat against the dock, so Stimp had to hop onto the oak-paneled stern of a ninety foot abortion of the rich and famous to reach the man and his son. After helping them to the deck, he stood by to make sure Raizo didn’t twist an ankle landing on the polished oak before leaning forward to talk to Bill.
“That was a good catch, dude. I had no idea we had a boat in the water.”
“Yeah. I was just taking a joyride, bro.” said Bill.
“Is that what I think it is?” asked Stimp, eyeing the tube.
“Sixty millimeter mortar. At least that’s what 4 tells me it is. He says he can hit anywhere on the island with it.”
“If they’re using modern round for it, he’s probably right. Anyway, I guess we’ve got fire support now. If it gets bad enough, it’ll come in handy.”
“Yep. You guys stay safe out there.” Bill added, turning to enter the wheelhouse.
Stimp did an about face, and took about two steps before he heard a loud voice behind him. Unfortunately for Stimp, he turned the wrong direction. Had he turned to his left, he would have seen the rotting, milky faced form racing for him. Instead, he turned to the right to face 4, who was trying to warn him of the inbound hellion, and took it full on the right arm when the teething beast lunged and locked its jaw on his exposed arm. Fury had been trying to comfort the child next to him, and missed the shadowy figure lurking by the cruiser’s cabin door. It caught him off guard, and by the time he raised his rifle, the shit sock was already latched onto Stimp’s arm, engaged in a shaking, shoving wrestling match. With the pair entangled as such, Fury had no shot. He began to walk, keeping the AK-47 as close to on target as possible as he negotiated the ramp.
The short sword across Stimp’s back was useless while the filthy bitch was on him. He had to get some distance. While it had its incisors buried in his right forearm, Stimp grabbed the back of its head with his left hand and dragged it to him, yanking hard and sending a knee into its gut. As an infected beast, it felt pain, if only for a second, but that second was all Stimp needed to wrench his arm free and kick it away. He drew the katana and shifted his left foot forward, planting it and loading the blade with power. As the zed regained its drive for flesh, it did not recognize the threat before it, and walked toward its prey and accepted a swinging razor to the neck. The remainder of the body slumped to the deck, dead again from a wound no doctor could salvage.
Stimp stood with the blade in his hands, shivering, dreading the fate that was working into his gaping arm. His wife in the bathroom, a hair dryer sifting the dirty blond strands. His daughter, running through the yard behind a ninety pound pit bull that acted more like a Chihuahua. Walking with the wife and daughter through an immense aquarium, the small child with her mouth agape at the sight of sharks barely a foot the other side of the glass. In the bed, his love above him, rivulets of sweat cascading down her chest and pooling on his stomach after their weighty decision to conceive. The hospital where the girl was born, the delivery room where the world welcomed her perfect little face and thanked his wife for the contribution.
Staring at the decapitated corpse at his feet, the night sucked away his soul and threatened to give it to the careening mass of pulsating flesh the island dwellers had become. One instinct was to call his wife, but he’d instructed her before leaving there was a possibility of no return. It would have been nice to hear her voice, and even better to hear his daughter’s. “I love you” was exchanged as he left, and he contemplated the wisdom of telling his wife what would become of him. He knew what he would become. He’d wasted more of them in the past two hours than he could count. Did he really want to tell her he’d lose all his humanity? That he’d become a base animal, driven by smell and sound and hunger, lusting after the skin and muscle and lifeblood of other people? What end would it serve?
Surviving site members would no doubt contact her, and forward some kind of official statement regarding his death. In hindsight, he would rather have told her the true nature of his end and how proud he was of it. The thought would bother him for the next three hours.
It would bother Fury for the rest of his life.
Doctor Collins hefted a Pelican case from the rear of the MCC, and nearly dropped it. D.C. was nearby loading magazines, and trotted over to help.
“Here, Doc, let me get that for you.” he said, grabbing the handles and lowering the box to the ground. “What’s in it?”
“It’s a field sample kit. Various enzymes and preservatives inside test tubes, a small cryogenic chamber, a miniaturized spectrometer, and personal protective equipment.”
“I kind of like it when you talk that way.”
“What way is that, Officer?” she asked, not sure how to interpret his interest.
“The businesslike tone in your voice. Real…uh,”
“What are you trying to say, D.C.?”
“I don’t know, just trying to make conversation, I suppose.”
“Why don’t you simply say you’re interested in me?”
Light was beginning to break over the Golden Isles, and the first glow from the east drifted into her stark, blue eyes. D.C.’s words failed when she batted her eyelashes and tossed her hip to the side in a trashy way, roping him in like a calf and flipping him for the tie.
“Well, hell, Doc. If I knew you weren’t so uptight from the start, I’d have cut loose on you a whole lot sooner.” he said, mustering a smile.
“Maybe when this is over you can buy me a drink, cowboy.”
She outlined her need to obtain samples from corpses, and of course, the water. Alpha was refitted, and ready to go after the GNC manager graciously dumped every stimulant in the store at the Command Post after learning of the situation. He’d come in early to start an inventory, but quickly left when he heard scraping and pounding at the back door. Alpha quickly moved to the back side of the strip mall, and cleared out the few zeds foolish enough to trespass so close to such a heavily armed group. DKing, Stag, and D.C. hijacked the chief’s Crown Vic like a bad thread on AR180.net after stuffing the field kit into the trunk, and they scooped up Doctor Collins for a hasty incursion to Sea Island. The car’s handling and speed would be an asset if they attracted too much attention from the horde, and the general idea was to stop short of the heap of deadness on the bridge.
D.C. slowed and wove through the gate and pulled a u-turn. He backed up to the body pile so the kit could remain in the trunk and the car would be pointed away. He popped the trunk lid and they dismounted, taking positions close to the guard rails. DKing hadn’t been paying too much attention to Stag’s rifling through the ammunition cans left for them by The Group, so he looked over to his teammate with curiosity when he heard the schlack-clack of the tube closing on a 40mm round.
“I knew you had the launcher, where’d you get the rounds?” he asked.
“Someone left a couple cans lying around, so I secured them. Can’t have just any old fool finding stuff like that. Besides, high explosive plus M4-Stag equals fun…”
DKing laughed, and began moving forward with D.C. and the Doc, who’d gathered a batch of tubes and scalpels. She wore heavy, purple latex gloves for the task, and as they neared the remains a malevolent aroma assaulted her nose and made her gasp.
“That’s horrible.” she said.
D.C. and DKing snorted, having been close enough to the creatures for long enough to not be bothered. Stag remained at the west foot of the bridge, providing explosive cover. Collins knelt beside a corpse and commenced cutting slivers of skin and muscle, then moving to the skull where she found it easy to carve out a portion of bone. DKing stood with his left leg against her thigh and the Uzi trained on the closest zeds, and indicated with his muzzle where she could scoop up some brain matter. All in all they’d been quiet in their arrival and activity except for some small talk, but the shifting winds carried their scent to the island’s interior, bringing out the crazies.
Stag saw the stragglers first, and let rip with forty millimeters of looping, falling, exploding goodness. The sound of the launcher firing signaled their exit cue, and D.C. fired at stumbling forms in the waxing light as they filed from the exquisite landscaping. Too many for D.C.’s single rifle, and too far for DKing to place reliable head shots, they aimed for center mass to push the zombies back while they withdrew. Stag yelled for them to move as he lit off the M203 once more, sending the cartoon rejects tumbling with deliberate, fragment-laced concussions about every six seconds. It appeared he still had the blessing of the indirect fire gods from his military days, and they decreed undead heathens should die once more at his hands.
DKing was first back to the car, and he jacked it into reverse while D.C. and Stag held the zeds at bay and allowed the Doc to secure her samples in the case. When she slammed the trunk shut and climbed into the front passenger seat, he gunned it and mashed the brakes when the back doors were lined up with the other two men. D.C. hopped in the passenger side, but Stag had to leave the mass of melancholy with a parting shot of high explosive. It landed in the heap of decaying stench and sent a geyser of filth skyward, a puffy cloud of waste in reds and browns, permeated by the morning sun that readied itself to warm the human leftovers on the cobblestones. DKing hit the gas, and headed for the Command Post.
“Mr. King?” Chief Timbes began, “How does an officer of the court justify stealing a police car?”
DKing’s instinct kicked in. His lips did not move, and could have been painted on his face. An eerie silence passed until Timbes laughed and asked if the Doc had what she needed. She assured the chief she did, and D.C. helped her pack the case back onto the MCC. When he was done, Timbes corralled Alpha, Bravo, and Charlie for a follow on mission.
“There is a group of citizens trapped on the balcony at Brogen’s. They’ve been pushing infected back from their barricaded position for a couple hours now, and they relayed that they’d seen a green Ford truck racing around the village shooting out the windows. Anyone know who might be in that truck?”
“More site members.” said DKing. “They were trying to rescue another site member from the pier, and ended up finding another man and a child clinging to a concrete piling. They were through here a little while ago and they dropped off Raizo, so we’ve got another set of hands to put to work. That reaction team is holed up in a condo with a group of women, and I’m thinking it’s time they evacuated.”
“I agree, Counselor. The 121st has been mobilized, but it will still be several hours before they get here. Our local Emergency Management Agency has deployed at the major intersections to help get folks on their way. I’ve had them set it up like a safety checkpoint where they do a quick interview of the occupants in order to judge whether someone is infected. Unless the Governor decides to declare a state of emergency, I don’t think there’s much more we can do in the way of containment. I’ve got an officer at each checkpoint, and they’ve encountered a few infected, but nothing approaching the scale of the island. DKing, if you can get in touch with that reaction team, have them evac those women to here, and we can send them on their way. For now, I want you to see if you can get those barflies off the balcony. Can you make it happen, Mr. King?” Timbes asked.
DKing looked at the men surrounding him. Their weapons hung on various slings, pistols in thigh rigs, assorted implements hanging across their backs and from their hips. Some had blood on their faces. Their eyes drooped with fatigue, and their hands were crusted with gunpowder residue, the black flecks of it dotting their skin in the morning haze. To a man, they had no complaint. Not once had he heard the phrase, “I’m tired,” or, “I’m hungry.” All they asked for was more ammunition. Some slouched where they stood, but none vocalized the slightest hint of discomfort, and he could see in their faces the desire to return to the fray and destroy this most evil thing which had been thrust upon the island. In between outings, each team had gathered the tidbits from Doctor Collins, picking up on the origin of the infection and terrorist upbringing, notwithstanding the government’s involvement in the weaponization of an alien scourge.
“We can, Chief.”
“Good. If I need you for specific missions again, I may call on you. I know you’re here on a voluntary basis, so I can only ask.”
“We’ll be here as long as it takes.”
The teams mounted the M35 and Splash’s Tahoe, knowing the number of people trapped at Brogen’s would easily fit in the Jolly Green Death Machine, which had been fitted with an M2 in the interim. Mutki was about to haul himself up into the bed when he caught the black flash that was Atticus racing for the perimeter, followed at inches by the sandy blur of Virgo and his pumpkin-sized head. Mutki and Coop simultaneously shouted for their animals, but it was too late. No amount of training would have stopped the two short-haired land sharks from their goal; a thick, droopy-skinned maniac had crept to the perimeter and fouled the officer there, overpowering him and knocking him down.
He heard the pitter patter of little feet, and had the good sense to roll onto his belly as the dogs launched at separate angles. Atticus gained altitude like a kite in a hurricane, lodging his shears into the beast’s throat while Virgo rotated in the air to clamp down on a leg. The slobbering idiot had no chance. As it fell, minus a throat courtesy of Atticus and disjointed by Virgo’s incomprehensible pressure, Mutki and Coop sprinted to the kill, wishing against fate.
Doctor Collins took note when they shouted for her, leading the animals by their collars, and she met the men halfway.
“Doc, they bit one of those things.” said Mutki, trying hard to hide his hurt.
“Please, Doc, you gotta do something!” Coop cried, tears beginning to well in his eyes.
A man should be close with his wife. He should be close to his children. He should love his momma, and his daddy, too. He could develop a non-gay relationship with other men, and precarious friendships with other women. The bond between a man and his dog did not fit into any of the above categories, and at times superseded all kinship with other humans. As the team gathered around the tragic scene, the doctor spoke.
“All the research material I’ve seen indicates this virus was engineered around human DNA. It is not capable of crossing species.”
“You mean,” Mutki managed.
“The dogs are fine. There’s no risk to them.”
Coop sighed, letting two fat, salty, bulbous streams run down his cheeks.
“What do you think this is, Coop?” she asked. “A Resident Evil sequel?”
Someone laughed contagiously in the back of the group, the way they laugh at friends when they fall down and say they’re okay.
Better Late Than Never
Vote (fromrooftops) slid onto the F.J. Torras Causeway just as the sun came up to breathe its heat over the Golden Isles. Russ rode shotgun, while 30Series occupied the left rear, loading extra magazines for the two men in front. Ahead, Vote took note of a dark colored Honda Civic pulling from the shoulder into the outside lane. He switched to the inside lane to pass, and Russ looked down from his seat in the lifted Jeep Cherokee to see a young, small man piled behind the steering wheel and wearing a chest rig loaded heavy with AR-15 magazines. Possibly another site member, Russ nodded when the young fellow looked over and waved with his left hand and displayed a black device strapped to his forearm. They left the Honda in the rear view, mud tires singing as Vote picked up speed.
“So, where’s your rifle, bud?” Russ asked 30Series. They’d picked him up at one of the truck stops near Exit 29, and after he offered to load the magazines for them there’d been little talk.
“Times are lean, especially for college kids these days. My parents weren’t made of money.”
“I hear you. DKing said they have extra guns if we need them. Maybe you can pick one up.”
They pulled into the lot at the Shops to find the entire AR180.net clan surrounding the MCC. Mutki and Coop were cleaning their dogs’ mugs with anti-bacterial wipes and trying to flush their mouths, but it was more of a game to the studs. Vote waved at DKing, who met him at his window and directed him to park. As the three were getting out, a series of popping shots rang out, and they turned to see one of the perimeter officers jack the last empty from his shotgun before drawing a sidearm and putting two into the head of a mountainous, long-haired remnant of society. The officer quickly backed to his previous post and began reloading the shotgun, beads of sweat dripping down into the box of shells. Vote, Russ, and 30Series joined the rest of the gang, where they were getting ready to head back to the M35 when Strycnine stopped them all.
“Hey, Doc?” he asked.
“You said the research files showed the infected were drawn by sound and smell. Could they tell which had the more powerful draw?” he continued, turning his head to see the Honda Civic pulling into the lot.
Its driver got out, and joined the group and plugged a cord into the device on his wrist. On one end was a foam covered microphone that he clipped to the bill of his cap. As the conversation continued, the man watched as words formed on the device.
“Sound was the preeminent lure to the infected. Most of you have already witnessed this phenomenon. Obviously, humans are capable of detecting sound from a greater distance than smell, unless the smell is very potent. In our case, the infected are not smelling you until they are very close, but your firearms can be heard all over the island when you are clearing the neighborhoods. Why do you ask?”
“I’ve got an idea, but we’re going to need someone who can blow stuff up, and some explosives. And an ice cream truck.” said Strycnine.
DKing had been looking at the ground as he listened, but perked his eyes up to Strycnine.
“What have you got in mind?” asked DKing.
Strycnine and DKing walked off together for a minute, while the others milled about. Stag reminded the group there was a band of revelers still holed up at Brogen’s, and began mentally formulating a game plan. DKing called Tec and Oscar over to conference, and Stag was about to begin a quick warning order when a silver Lincoln Continental rolled in from the road and an old man lifted himself from the driver’s seat. He walked over slowly, telling his age and tiredness. Woody recognized him as the man from the Black Banks subdivision, the one who’d willed him the automatic rifle.
“Sir, are you okay?” Woody asked.
“I’m fine, Woody. I forgot something at the house, but if those things are still there in numbers, I don’t think I can get to it.”
“Can we help you get it later? Right now we’re getting ready to stage a rescue.”
“You may have some use for it, son.”
Woody listened as the man described a trunk located in a detached garage behind his home, and took a key from the man. If the old dude said it could be used, Woody trusted it as gospel. He rounded up Delta team, and they took off in the department’s F250; Coop’s Chevy still sat roadside a couple miles north, not yet recovered. They found the trunk easily enough, and nearly made it back to the truck before a small gaggle of six foot maggots confronted them in the road. Woody and Guns dumped the box, training their weapons on two of the monsters, while UGA hopped in to get the truck started. Davey jammed out behind the truck and fired east, taking down three zombies before scooting backwards and mounting the bed. Woody and Guns dropped the other two on the far side of the Ford, firing over the hood. Sprinting, not knowing how many more beasts were inbound, they recovered the trunk and threw it into the bed and followed it in as fast as they could. UGA wheeled it around, spinning grass and gravel into the road and making a subconscious apology for ruining the landscaping of the man who’d given them whatever was in the box.
In the bed, Woody noticed someone in the rear seat of the truck.
“Hey, I thought we left Coop at the Command Post.” he said.
Guns looked in through the window.
“That’s not Coop!” Guns shouted. In the instant it took him to realize the fact, he knew the rifle might injure UGA and Davey as they rode up front. He drew his 9mm Beretta, and took aim as the slobbering creature rose and reached for UGA’s shoulder. He had to chance it.
When UGA felt the wet, slimy pressure on his arm, he turned his head to see the open mouth of the diseased slug being thrust at him. He instinctively threw his elbow at it, a maneuver that would have been useful against a normal man. The zombie, though, took it as an offering of food and latched its head to UGA’s right triceps, tearing away a golf ball-sized chunk when Guns perforated its back with bullet holes. Not dead enough, it turned to lunge for its meal again but was caught behind the head by UGA’s adrenaline fueled arm. He stopped the truck while holding the zombie by the head, no longer afraid of being bitten, and slammed the shifter into Park. He opened the door and pulled out with all his weight, dragging the live meat sock over the seat and pushing its head against the door latch. He slammed the truck’s door repeatedly and with utter rage until the head was a burst sausage casing with brains dripping from it. UGA pulled the remains from the seat, and retook his position behind the wheel. Through the shattered back glass, Woody asked if he was okay, but no amount of well-wishing would fix his conundrum. He was casualty number two for AR180.net. They drove the rest of the way in silence.
At the Command Post, UGA joined Stimp in the ambulance. Neither man was in a talkative mood, but eventually their conversation began to center around a scheme based on bits and pieces of conversations being held around them.
Strycnine let the precious M35 fall into the hands of Stag, with a wholehearted plea for preservation.
“I do hope you’ll return it in pristine order.” he said.
“You’re insured, right?” Stag asked. When the look on Strycnine’s face showed no hint of a smile, he added, “I kid, I kid.”
Stag took the wheel with Mutki in the passenger seat. Woody, Leland, Pit, Hickey, 30Series, and D.C. took the bed. Splash followed with Arc, Niquorice, and Medic along for the ride in the Tahoe. Vote drove his Jeep, carrying Russ, Fury, and Coop, trailing the other two trucks to the village. Nearing eight in the morning, south Georgia began to strangle the men in its humid embrace and fill the vehicles with body odor that belonged on troops in the field for a week.
The M35 turned off Kings Way onto Fairway Drive, skirting the Retreat golf course and hanging a left on Butler Avenue. When they neared Mallery Street, Stag sidled the truck against a building that would give Pit and Hickey diagonal shots on the ground floor of Brogen’s to thin out the sizeable herd that was drooling on the sidewalk. The two men scrambled onto the roof and began pounding the zombies with their .308’s, dropping the sickly sausage bags like flies. D.C. and Leland fired over the roof into the crowd, pushing it down and coating the pavement with body after body.
Vote pushed the nose of the Jeep into the bushes next to the Casino, where Russ and Coop used an awning to make the roof. They were directly across from Pit and Hickey, but firing down into the parking lot there was no risk of cross fire. They poured on the lead, and from their range, head shots were easily within fifty yards, popping skull caps off on occasion, but with regularity resorting to double-head-taps to finish the bastards with 5.56mm. Vote and Fury sped away to take up a holding pattern, ready to recover personnel when the rescue was complete.
Splash rolled down Mallery Street, allowing Arc, Niquorice, and Medic to fire at pasty, drooping figures lurching toward the commotion at the end of the block. He had his LR308’s muzzle out the window, ready for a close shot, and was scanning to the left when Arc screamed from the passenger seat.
“Go left! Go left!” Arc hollered.
Their right flank was being overwhelmed as they passed the Iguanas restaurant at the corner of Mallery and Lord Avenue, the structure vomiting a putrid mass of human decay at the Chevy. Splash hit the gas, jammed forward half a block, and darted left onto Beachview Drive where they met yet another swarming throng of dead heads. He braked, and the other three men put their windows up, but as he pushed the button to fill his window with glass it took the rifle barrel with it. The butt stock was wedged against the center console and wouldn’t budge. He lowered the tinted glass, and clicked the safety off as a former fitness freak on a pure protein diet launched at him. Splash pulled the trigger once when the beast dropped its head close enough, and was rewarded with a spray of dead blood and palate, sending the cranial contents into a spiraling pink fog caused by the custom flash hider. Choking, he moved the rifle and got the window up, immediately putting the high-riding Tahoe into four wheel drive and pinning the accelerator. As the four-by pushed through and over the rambling, dripping, bony mush beneath its tires, Splash spit out onto the shifter console, a tooth coming to rest in the blood-laced saliva.
“Damn! The muzzle blast knocked out one of your teeth?” asked Arc.
Splash ran his tongue around the inside of his chompers to check.
“What? What’s wrong?”
“That ain’t my tooth.” said Splash, sobering his passengers.
He kept driving until they couldn’t see any more zombies. Then he got out and puked.
As Pit and Hickey and Russ and Coop slaughtered wholesale, Stag saw his opening and gunned the heavy military truck, swinging wide and jumping the curb that ran half the length of the lot. Mutki hung from the window, firing as he could, with D.C. and Leland doing the same overhead. Woody and 30Series shot from the sides as they found stragglers, their 55 grain pain pills yawing through chest cavities and punching holes through softened heads. Stag planted the truck’s hood under the balcony, making it an easy jump for the nine drunks trapped there. They’d managed through the night by piling tables and bar stools on the stairs, and beating down the scrambling bone bags with lumber pried from the railing. Cargo safe in the bed, Stag backed away from the balcony slowly, allowing the riflemen to destroy the closest mutated slugs before pulling a ninety degree turn to the left and picking up the two they’d put on the roof. He gave a signal over the radio, calling for Vote to make his pickup and for Splat to get clear of the area.
“I’m clear.” said Splat. His voice was gravel and filled with hate and fear. The others heard it.
Russ and Coop dropped from the Casino and held tight to the roof rack for evacuation. All three drivers headed north on Ocean Boulevard, and were halfway to the Coast Guard Museum when fire fell from the sky. Big Bill held position at the channel marker straight off the pier, with 3 launching belt after belt of 40mm hell at Brogen’s. 4 adjusted for high angle fire, and blanketed the village with explosives, shattering window and bone, plastering every business in the village with the stewed tomato and dog shit mixture that seemed to constitute guts in the infected. After twenty rounds of fire for effect, he sat and rested, proud of his base plate design that allowed the continuous fire without hammering the boat to pieces.
They’d made their getaway. The drunks were safe from themselves, and safe from the zombie horde.
But they’d lost another team member.
Stag hoped that whatever DKing and Strycnine were cooking up was damn good.
Caution: Contents May be Hot
Splash joined UGA and Stimp, seated on the platform bumper on the back of the ambulance. There wasn’t much to say. Each man ran scenes from his life in the theater of the mind, wondering how many hours remained before the curtain call. DKing, Strycnine, and Oscar had been in contact with The Group, and more than once, Oscar was overheard detailing specs for the amount of C4, detonating cord, shock tubes, electric caps, and radio detonators. When a loose plan seemed to be in place, DKing gathered the site members.
“Strycnine has come up with what The Group and I, as well as the Sterling Police Chief consider to be the most viable extermination strategy for the time being. As you’re all well aware,” said DKing, casting a sorrowful glance at the ambulance, “there is no cure for this infection. Doctor Collins says the reason for this is that no cure was ever explored. The virus, whose name I can’t pronounce, was genetically engineered as a weapon, and all efforts surrounding it were concentrated on increasing lethality. No thought whatsoever was given to treatment. We’ve all watched movies, read books, and sat at our computers and wondered what the end of the world would be like and how we’d deal with it. This virus was created to bring the apocalypse, and bring it in the worst imaginable way. According to the Doc’s research and one of the men who built the bug, it was a last strike weapon to be used in the event America was brought to its knees.”
DKing could see his words sinking into the spongy bits between their ears, but gave them a moment to reflect before continuing.
“Gentlemen, and I use the term loosely, if we don’t stop it here, the virus may well fulfill its intended purpose. Unfortunately, we won’t have time to round up all the terrorists in the world who hate us and bring them here. Strycnine, you want to take it from here?”
Strycnine outlined the broad strokes of it, reinforcing the need to hit neighborhoods in specific areas to make sure they were evacuated. Then the members of AR180.net were set to task, divvying up what was becoming scarce in resupply drops from The Group. Early in the emergency, there were more bullets than zombies, but the night had dwindled their ammunition and caused the equation to invert. As the group of site members separated into teams, the small man with the box on his arm approached DKing and tapped his shoulder.
“Yeah?” asked DKing, looking at the wiry, compact kid.
He typed into his device, “I’m ready to go. I want to shoot zombies.”
DKing began to roll through a list of questions in his head, trying to think of a way to keep the kid, who looked like he was fifteen, from getting himself killed. Even though they stood in the midst of an unnatural disaster and operating outside the protocol of any police or military unit, he knew that when the ashes settled there would be an investigation. At some point he’d have to explain why he’d encouraged men to do things, and give some semblance of reasoning, and he didn’t want to have to look a mother in the eye and tell her he couldn’t convince her disabled son to simply go back home.
“How old are you?” he asked.
“I’m 23. My screen name is Gamer001.”
The attorney recognized the screen name, and remembered some of the well thought out responses attached to it. If the kid wanted to split heads with the big boys, who was DKing to tell him no?
“You can run security with Guns and Davey, over there.” he gestured, waving at the police truck with the shattered back window.
Gamer gave him a curt nod and an impish grin. DKing watched the kid retrieve a rifle from the Honda, and it became patently obvious the boy knew his way around the AR platform when he loaded the short-barreled, suppressed rifle and slung it in one motion.
Stag took the M35 back out with the same crew, under the order to fire only when a head shot was certain. There would be no more resupply from The Group. It had no more bullets to give to the cause, but as the deuce-and-a-half pulled away, its crew could see several crates being offloaded from the flat black, armored suburban with the minigun on top. “8” declined to join them with the chain gun, citing a previous engagement he wouldn’t detail. 30Series took Splash’s place at the wheel of the Tahoe, sad to have done so but still proud to be a part of this thing that had grown from a loose internet association into a more than capable fighting force. Vote started the Jeep with his three passengers, heading north to find the area around the Circle K. The three teams’ main focus would be to clear those homes closest to the specified targets, and with the daylight fully broken, they hoped for easier contact with anyone still sheltering in place.
Trojan, Van, and Smitty jogged across Sea Island Road with Kap, Conley, and Strycnine in tow. Their target was the fleet shed where the company’s vehicle keys were kept, and when they made it inside, Conley butt stroked the key box to knock it from the wall. Kap used the trusty Ka-Bar to pry it open, and Smitty stuffed all the keys in it into his shirt. The six of them headed out, and took up jogging again until they gathered at the far end of the lot where several shuttle buses were parked.
“How many do we need?” asked Trojan.
“Three should do.” said Smitty. He spilled the keys and passed them around, letting the others try ignition keys until they had three of the vans running.
When they pulled in next to the Command Post, Tec hopped into the one Van was piloting and said, “Out, out, out. Work to do.”
Tec had acquired twelve siren boxes, courtesy of Sterling P.D., and he began to wire four to each shuttle. Atop their roofs, one aimed in each cardinal direction, he tested them by breaking squelch and checking the relays he’d wired to their CD players by turning the volume way down. It took him about an hour, with help, in the sun that had begun to beat everyone senseless with its friend, ninety-seven percent humidity.
Oscar was also busy in the meantime. He’d fashioned a few satchel charges and given instructions to the deployment/security team that consisted of Guns, Davey, Raizo, and Gamer. He’d also put together a care package for the newly spirited Splash, who’d made peace with the man upstairs and claimed to have received word from above. Or, at least he’d convinced Oscar of it. Splash hitched a ride with Guns in the police truck, and they headed north on Frederica Road. Sitting in the back, he let the wind roll over him and penetrate the collar of his shirt, lifting his vest away from his body. At the Circle K they spun in quickly, dismounted, and opened the in-ground tank. There was no way to tell how much fuel was inside, and no one volunteered to get the measuring stick, anyway. While they dropped the waterproofed charge in, Splash buried himself in the bushes between the convenience store and the Ameris bank next door, holding on to the pull-ring fuse that led to the tank. Guns turned the truck around and aimed it at the pumps, rolling forward and bashing the pair in the middle until they saw gasoline spilling and filling the parking lot. He did the same to the pumps at the south end, just for good measure. They’d been as quiet as they could, but knocking the pumps over was sufficient to bring a few bumbling, slathering, back-munchers out of the weeds. Gamer tapped Guns on the shoulder from behind, signaling a stop.
One hundred seventy pounds of internet- and range-trained triggerman hit the pavement, his left hand fastened to the stubby vertical grip at the end of the rail. There was a tiny click when he flipped the safety off, and within four seconds he cracked off three rounds and scored three head shots at about fifty yards. Davey emitted a low whistle as Gamer scanned the street. Satisfied there were no other creatures immediately in view, he put the weapon on safe and hopped into the back seat. The entire shooting began and ended in less than twelve seconds.
“Shit.” Raizo exclaimed, turning his borrowed rifle in his hands. He’d been the sender of several thousand rounds at his local range, but the spectacle sitting to his left made him feel small. He cut his eyes at Gamer, who returned only a shrug.
They headed for the next target.
Van hopped into the driver’s seat, and turned the engine over. He’d volunteered to drive alone, betting the unladen van had enough motor to push past or over any zombies that got too close. He headed for the Glynn Haven neighborhood, and made one trip down Holly Street before returning to the Circle K. He knew Splash was danger close and why, and as he sat in the green, air conditioned shuttle he could not escape the anguish he knew the older man must have felt. To make a conscious decision of that magnitude required unimaginable courage, and Van wondered if the other two injured men were contemplating the same. He picked up the portable radio and called Vote.
“Vote, are you guys clear of the gas station?” he asked.
“Roger. We’re hiding on the golf course just south of you, trying to keep quiet. Those loudspeakers working yet?”
Van walked to the back of the shuttle to take a look.
“Oh, yeah. Splash will have his work cut out for him, so to speak.” he said, referring to the six matching hatchets strapped to Splash’s back. He’d surrendered his rifle and ammunition in case someone else needed them.
Splash lay in the pine straw with his head under a thick bush, and a solitary tear issued from each eye as he realized he was losing. He felt the volcano inside, welling up from his belly and erupting into his throat as the virus took its liberties with his flesh. There was no way to know how much longer he’d have control, and once he turned, he was fairly sure he’d forget what to do with the fuse. He pulled the safety pin, clipped the ring to his vest and rose on his elbows, watching as the horde enveloped the shuttle with Van at the wheel. He’d only known the man for a few hours, but in that portion of a day the members of the Home Town Forum had grown inexplicably closer without having to sit and drink beer and tell their life stories to each other. He stood, reaching to his back to draw two of the six razor-edged hacking instruments, and walked a measured pace toward the mob.
When he was in range, he planted his left foot and let fly, watching while the small axe rotated on its way to a new home in a divided skull. He shifted the other blade and raised it over his head to ready for another throw, but he couldn’t focus; the darks were darker, fuzzier, and his world was in haze. He couldn’t throw. Splash drew another blade and marched forward, cleaving necks from the side until he could no longer lift his arms, which seemed a very short time. It was hard to breathe through the foam in his lungs that stuck hard when he tried to cough, and soon the beasts turned on him, too. His strength was gone with his mind, ran out the back door and left in the yard to wallow in the silence of futility. Splash allowed his soul to cave with his last conscious thought, secured with preparation.
Van decided the pounding at the windows had reached the decisive point when he heard one of them shatter. It barely held in the frame because of the heavy tint film, and the whole scene had boiled enough to blow the lid. He put the truck in gear and turned to the left, as he didn’t think it would clear the curb. Through the vile mass of bodies the shuttle pushed, swinging left over the human bowling pins that included the shell of Splash. Van didn’t recognize the man’s face among the many mouth-breathing window lickers, and didn’t realize he had him hung up in the undercarriage and was dragging him away from the tank. When the two hundred fifty feet of detonating cord reached its end, Splash’s corpse pulled the ring and touched off the charge in the tank.
The next three seconds sounded the tolling of the bell.
Inside the tank, the charge first created an overpressure of mammoth proportions before birthing a jet of screaming fuel skyward. Chunks of concrete launched into the air, arcing from the core of the blast. Trees three hundred feet away laid over or splintered. The shock front raced ahead of burning gasoline on the lot, and kicked the ass end of Van’s shuttle hard enough to vault it over its own nose and push it a hundred yards south on the roof. Lying twisted in the wrecked shuttle, Van desperately searched for the radio that had been loose, and saw it halfway to the back door. He couldn’t move his legs. His back was broken. There was a complete lack of sensation, and no pain; if they were broken he at least had to be thankful for that. Grasping at the light fixtures on the ceiling, he pulled his way to the radio and called Vote, asking for an extraction and making sure to tell the inbound team of his injury.
From his position in the shuttle, Van could see forms moving toward him, engulfed in flames and stumbling along merrily they quickly surrounded him. He could feel the heat of their burning clothes, and smell the hair and skin as it melted into ash, and hope found him when he heard the supersonic cracks of rifle fire around him. Bodies fell, blocking the windows as they piled up. He could hear Vote and Russ shouting to him, and he did his best to yell back.
Vote and Russ insisted they could extract their downed teammate even though Fury and Coop suggested it was a bad idea. Too much fire, too many targets. The two former ordered the two latter to provide covering fire while they went in through the cracked windshield, but their approach from the front hid their view of the ruptured fuel tank that was pooling fluid along the underbody. When the running gasoline fell through the crevices of the door pillars, it ignited in a cascading inferno. Inside the shuttle, Russ heard Coop hollering for them to hurry and “The whole van’s on fire!” He looked at Van and Vote, and without words they agreed their position was untenable. He shouted as loud as he could muster in the oven and through the flames for Fury and Coop to get back, as he removed a baseball-sized hunk of metal from a pouch. Russ held it out to Van, who pulled the pin. Vote nodded in agreement, and Russ allowed the spoon to spring free.
Coop and Fury were close enough to be knocked on their asses by the concussion of the shuttle exploding. The engine block shielded them from shrapnel, but the blast sent shards of motor coach in every other direction, shredding the flaming idiots next to it and throwing the bodies onto the shoulder of the road. Coop sat up and looked at Fury, who breathed in a hot lungful of charred air and blew it out.
“Well, if you’re gonna go, go all the way.” said Coop.
With nothing else to do, they hopped back in the Cherokee and made for the Command Post.
“Where is the rest of your team?” DKing asked.
Fury lowered his head. Coop looked at the asphalt behind DKing where no words were hiding.
More silence in the atmosphere, just the chatter of police radios.
UGA and Stimp shot glances at them, knowing Splash was gone, and wondering who else wasn’t going home.
Guns plowed into the tanks at the Parker’s station at the corner of Ocean Boulevard and Mallery Street after the charge was set. That location would be detonated by radio. Gasoline spilled across the lot and into the street, but it ran into the drain where fire had nowhere to go once alight. The EPA was the last thing on anyone’s mind, regardless.
Stag had been coasting up and down the ruined village area, now cleared of all but the sturdiest specimens of filth. Head shots from Hickey’s M14 floated pink balloons with every hit and littered the sidewalk with human garbage, aided by the rest of the crew as they provided overwatch for Guns and the demolition men. Once the charge was dropped, both trucks rolled back to the Command Post for a break.
“Oh, damn!” someone said at the perimeter.
An officer there apparently thought there was something of note, and Oscar, D.C., and 30Series happened to be closest. The officer was holding a female bone biter in his sights, but for reasons they’d never know she stood stock still.
“Aw, hell.” D.C. commented.
“You know her, too?” 30Series asked.
“Well, let’s just say I hit it, and leave it at that.”
“Huh?” D.C. said, a bit confused.
“So did I. Bachelor party, two years ago. She liked for you to pull her hair and slap her around a little.”
“Damn. Now see, when you find one like that on the first date, it’s generally a bad sign.”
Oscar stood between the two younger men to take a gander at the female. She was still pretty, in a nasty sort of way; blood-and-snot drooling, wet blond hair, big red eyes that used to be brown, a narrow waist with ample hips and the breasts to match, a host of sores on her face and a raspy lump in her labored breathing made her an instant hit for any necrophiliac. Oscar had been around the world and seen many things, and he had to laugh at the young bucks.
“What’s funny, old man?” asked D.C., not seeing the humor.
“The both of you, went and stuck your dick in the crazy.” he said, continuing to laugh.
“Really? I can’t laugh about it right now, Pops.” said 30Series.
“Boys,” said Oscar, still chuckling, “you gotta know when to eject.”
They both raised their rifles and cooked off a round at her ashen face, turning the back of her head into a cranial exhaust funnel. The three men returned to the Command Post, where Kap and Conley were getting ready to head out in the bait shuttles. Kap drove off with Smitty as cover on the roof, carrying Splash’s donated .308 semi-auto. Conley followed with roof gunners Strycnine, UGA, and Trojan, who had a new toy. Strycnine wanted to see his plan in action, and Trojan had been one of two people at the Command Post who recognized the device in the old man’s trunk; a good thing, too, since that trunk had cost UGA his humanity. Trojan wore the M2A1-7 with pride and vicious intent to avenge the comrade who sacrificed to bring it to him.
UGA had concocted an agenda of his own, having secured and prepared a few items before mounting the shuttle.
The two vans idled along Ocean Road, dragging zoned-out, slushy drones behind. Every once in a while, one of the faster shit slugs would catch up to Conley’s van and earn a face full of UGA’s Remington 870. By the time Ocean Road changed its name to Ocean Boulevard, there was a crowd of around a hundred fifty zombies in tow, none fast enough or agile enough to cause worry. Trolling along, they picked up twenty or so for every block they passed, and when they reached Neptune Way, UGA decided to pull his final stunt. He dropped from the roof, hopping down to the street with a tube full of buckshot and four spare magazines for his M&P pistol.
Since he was bitten, his mind roiled with past experience and future expectations. As he went along with his self-deprecating, delusional humor, it occurred there was only one option; he’d take as many as he could on the way out. No cure, no treatment, no problem. Sixty some-odd years ago, a biologist and a chemist gave birth to a bastard child that had no natural predators, save those men who made up their minds to do it in, and UGA figured to become the eradicator of many.
He rushed into the parking lot of Barberitos, emptying the scattergun as he went. The mass of over five hundred flailing sausage bags swarmed around him, and he dropped the shotgun and drew his pistol, aiming and firing one-handed as fast as he could. Firing with the right hand and reaching for spare magazines with the left, when he ran the last one dry he looked over to the shuttle, raising the clacker overhead and jamming his back against the enormous oak tree next to the road. As the beasts set upon him, he held the clacker between his hands and looked to the sky, noticing a cloud that reminded him of one of man’s greatest gifts; the drifting, flowing column of floating water bore a striking resemblance to a wavy, striped piece of bacon. UGA rammed the levered side of the clacker against the body until he saw no more.
Conley had no idea UGA was gone from the roof, but he sure as hell heard and felt the explosion of two claymores UGA had strapped to his waist. From the roof, Strycnine and Trojan saw the inverted umbrella shape fold into the crowd, slapping meat-coated ball bearings through the plate glass windows of Barberitos and Joe’s Pizza. In less than a second, he’d taken out over fifty dead bitches with willpower and a little high explosive.
Were it so that all were as brave at their end.
Strycnine and Trojan gave silent salute to their vaporized comrade, and turned to concentrate on the mob now surrounding their shuttle. They had in fact picked up a large enough statistical sampling of walking dead that some were able to grab the ladder at the back door and make an attempt at the roof. Trojan pulled the igniter and depressed the trigger, sending a stream of jellied fire at the creature that served to push it back down into the mob, catching a few others aflame when it fell. The problem began there, and as happy as Trojan had been to employ the flamethrower, he had to admit in hindsight that it wasn’t the most well-advised course to take at the time. The burning corpses in the street wandered several yards west, where their falling carcasses landed in a river of gasoline. Good, for the hundreds of zombies gathered at the intersection to investigate the raucous noise blaring from the loudspeakers. Bad, for the men in and on those vehicles bearing the loudspeakers.
A call for reinforcements to 30Series, piloting the Tahoe, brought him barreling down Mallery Street; along the way he swerved and plowed through small bands of loping, second-chance slugs. He jammed the accelerator to the floor, topping sixty in the twenty-five zone before realizing he was too hot as they passed the Dairy Queen. The heavy Chevy nosed down when 30Series stood on the brakes, and when he figured it was under control, he jerked the wheel left to avoid the shuttles that were stopped in the intersection. Except for that portion of Mallery Street that ran south into the village, the riot of slobbering idiots was shoulder to shoulder and thick as molasses poured over the scene. Arc and Niquorice had put their windows up, and 30Series mashed the button for the shift-on-the-fly transfer case, giving the Tahoe more traction in the mess of human gruel that was piling under the truck. Medic blasted away with his AR-15 from the right rear window of the Tahoe, cutting a swath along the passenger sides of the shuttles to clear the way. Once there was room, 30Series sidled up to the rear shuttle and allowed Strycnine and Trojan to drop into the sunroof, where Trojan unleashed a rail of brimstone onto the heads of thirty felonious freaks.
While the Tahoe plucked the two men from the rear shuttle, Smitty banged away at every head he could get in his sights. The 147 grain NATO rounds chewed through mushy craniums and furrowed through flesh on the other side, creating a steady two-for-one with each shot, though half of those were simply creatures who had become immobile due to broken femurs and pelvises. Medic, opposite the implication of his screen name, took the opportunity to head shoot those broken specimens as they passed. The roof rescue was necessary, as the beasts had partially smashed the shuttle’s windows and were scaling the sides, stepping on their cohorts’ heads for a boost. Stag and his crew rolled through the Fourth of May’s parking lot and stopped, using the bed as a firing platform to chew into the crowd as best they could. Leland, with his AR-15, and Pit with his FAL, concentrated on head shots closest to the shuttles, while the others in the M35 pushed back those that got too close for comfort. With the opening created, Kap and Conley floored the shuttles and sped off west on Kings Way, away from the village. Stag dumped the clutch on the M35 and started out, cursing when he glanced in the mirror to see the Tahoe mired in two-legged filth.
The rear differential housing and the front skid plate had become high centered on bodies stacked upon bodies. Trojan’s flamethrower was dangerously low on fuel, spurting out short bursts of hell before finally hissing the last of the propellant into the air. Stag backed the M35 until the towing hook punched through the radiator of the Chevy. Hickey, D.C., Woody, and Pit rained down supersonic death from the bed, while Medic and Leland climbed onto the hood of the doomed Tahoe. Medic’s rifle was dry, and henceforth came Legitimus, the ancient machete passed down to him through the generations, its legend a hazy enigma barely hinted at by his grandfather. He hacked and sliced, back to back with Leland who bore down on the sweaty, clammy, skulls with an axe he’d liberated from a Cracker Barrel. Each zombie that came within arm’s reach was splintered and severed, driven back into the crowd under a barrage of swings and strikes. The push for the Tahoe’s occupants was heavy, and as the men inside scrambled for the sunroof they became prey for the horde’s ravenous hunt. Trojan had the good fortune to hop into the M35’s bed first.
Stumbling around in the stupor of their new lives, each zombie realized he or she was still capable of more than simply walking around. Some carried rocks, which they used to smash the Chevy’s windows before dragging 30Series from the driver’s seat. He was pulled away so quickly that the other men didn’t even know where he’d gone until he managed to pull the pin on a fragmentation grenade thirty yards away. Body parts and brain chunks rained down on the men firing from the bed. Arc, in the front passenger seat, suffered a similar fate, though he was wrenched by his arms, leaving his feet inside the truck. He flexed his hamstrings, holding to the door with his lower legs, fighting against the tidal pull of the crowd and choking a zombie in each hand. As he released one of them to draw a large Gerber MKII from his vest, he shouted to the men in the M35. He felt the teeth bearing down on his sweaty neck, unable to fend off the beast in the frenzy; he managed to skewer the one still clamped in his left hand, satisfied with one more kill before he was put down by a sympathetic teammate in the M35.
Niquorice was halfway through the sunroof when he felt the hungry tug of hands on his legs. The monsters were inside the truck, holding him in place. Leland and Medic made a move for him, but all they could focus on were the two gunmetal gray orbs in his hands. He laced opposing fingers through the pins and pulled, holding the spoons against the grenade bodies to allow his comrades to get clear. Niquorice looked around the scene, surveying the six hundred or so former citizens, and feeling both sorrow at their impending doom and relief in the knowledge he wouldn’t survive to become one of them.
Medic vaulted the tailgate and pulled Leland with him, shouting at Stag to punch it. The heavy, six-wheeled truck bounced over corpses and was a hundred yards away when the Tahoe exploded, sending at least sixty of the dead-headed freaks into the afterlife again. Mutki, riding shotgun, raised the eight inch antenna on the detonator and rocked a small red switch forward until it lit red. Another until it was green, and the third red switch set off the charge in the Parker’s tanks. A blast of air rushed past the truck, though they were two hundred yards off and through many trees, and those in the bed watched as an orange-red fireball mushroomed over the tree line. They could hear secondary explosions from the several cars that had been parked nearby, hoping with each soft whoosh that more degenerate denizens were roasted.
Okay, Have You Guys Got it From Here?
At the Command Post, they dismounted and realized help had finally arrived. In record time the Georgia National Guard deployed to Saint Simons Island, and members of the LRS unit were spelling the men at the perimeter. The company commander set about gathering maps and information on what had already occurred, and decided that repeating the actions of AR180.net made for a good outline. He had, and would have, many more men available, to continue a house by house, structure by structure clearing of the entire island. In the interim, though, DKing and Oscar were busy concocting a field expedient solution to the bulk of their problems.
“D.C. and Smitty, could you guys come over here?” asked DKing.
“Hey, boss. What do you need?” Smitty asked.
When the attorney was done, D.C. smiled. Smitty liked the idea, too, but he was too tired to grin.
D.C. and Guns left skid marks in the road when they pulled out of the lot in the chief’s Ford. Smitty took Raizo for backup, as he seemed fresh and ready to go. They reached their destination in about eight minutes, off the north end of West Point Drive. Smitty saw the red Hyundai sports car in the driveway and recognized the face of the teenage boy in the window staring out, and hoped to avoid a confrontation. The boy wouldn’t be happy, but Smitty wasn’t in the mood to hurt people if they weren’t infected.
“What do you want this time, Officer Smith?” said the boy, his disdain in the open.
“I need your car. More precisely, I need your big-pimping stereo system.”
“Like I’m just going to give it to you.” he said, sucking his teeth. “I know my rights, now, Mister Officer, and I ain’t giving you shit.”
Smitty searched the grass for calm, suppressing his welling anger. He knew what he was about to do was wrong; one did not deprive another of personal property without due process, even if one wore a badge. He held out an arm to Raizo, who looked ready to eat the kid’s lunch.
“You know what’s going on out here?” Smitty asked.
“Just what they’ve said on TV. Stay inside and don’t let anyone into your home. So?”
“Over the last twelve hours, I’ve killed over three hundred people on this island.”
Normally the boy, seventeen, would have laughed and made a lame attempt at a joke to impress his friends. But standing on his stoop, facing the haggard, sweaty, unshaven officer before him he held his tongue. If the situation were so bad, so desperate, that they’d ask for his help, perhaps he should consider it.
“You want to take the car?”
“You can drive it if you want. I need what the car can do. I need the noise it makes. I want you to come down to the south end and do all the shit I usually write you tickets for.”
It was all the invitation Rolly needed. He was back at the front door in thirty seconds, having duped his parents with a lie.
Rolly followed Smitty and Raizo to the next house, a few minutes south and just the other side of the roundabout at Frederica and Lawrence Road. They turned onto Sea Palms Lane, and stopped in front of a two story pad with blue trim. Smitty knocked on the front door but got no answer. He walked to the garage after telling Rolly to stay in his car and having Raizo provide cover, peeking through the high windows to see if the Isuzu Trooper was inside. It was.
He went back to the front door, pistol drawn, and smashed the narrow pane beside it. Reaching in, he flipped the dead bolt and opened the door, nodding at Raizo to follow. They cleared the bottom floor quickly before ascending the stairs, but there was no one in the upstairs rooms, either. Smitty told Raizo to go back down and keep an eye out.
“Aiden?” yelled Smitty. “Aiden, it’s Officer Smitty. If you’re hiding in here, I need to talk to you.”
Near the end of the hall, he saw an opening at the attic entrance as someone pushed the ladder panel down a few inches.
“What do you want?” asked the boy.
“I need your Trooper, and the loud-ass stereo in it. While you’re at it, come down and talk to me.”
“I’m not coming down. I know what’s going on out there; it’s all over the radio.” Aiden said, tremors threatening to halt his speech.
“Quit being a bitch and get down here. Where are your parents?”
“I don’t know. I tried their cells but the network is busy. Here,” he said, tossing the keys down, “take the fucking thing.”
“Fine. I’ll bring it back if I can. Otherwise, just tell your insurance company it was stolen. If I don’t bring it back, you can rest assured they’ll believe you if they find what’s left of it. You got food and water up there?”
“Yep. I’ve seen way too many zombie movies, I guess. I’m set for a week.”
“Okay. Soldiers will be through here soon. Don’t make them shoot you, alright?”
The boy agreed, and Smitty went down the stairs to find Raizo gone. Looking around, he saw Raizo by the pool, walking slowly with his rifle trained on a figure lying in a chair. Raizo had seen the woman from inside the breakfast room, and commented to himself that her legs looked pretty good for being so white. Out the back door, he called to her, asking if she was okay, but got no answer. As he closed to ten feet, he realized why she didn’t respond; her head hung from her neck by a few strands of muscle and ligament, the long, dark hair matted in blood across her face. The rest of her seemed intact, but her neck looked to have been eaten away. A shuffling sound from behind, and he turned to face the husband in full rage, a brown foam boiling from his mouth and his arms outstretched and clawing for Raizo. There was no time to raise the rifle and fire. In those last seconds, Raizo saw Smitty at the back door, taking an isosceles stance, but the three of them made a straight line. If Smitty fired, the round might have passed through the angry, walking sausage and hit his teammate.
Raizo was a superb swimmer, and the smell of pool chemicals drew him to the water’s surface, turning and twisting away from the zombie but reaching back and grabbing the tattered, light blue fishing shirt. He pulled with all the strength he could muster, and flung his body into the water where, from Doctor Collins’ advice, he knew the creature would drown. What he hadn’t counted on was the beast’s innate desire to feed regardless of its environment. Even in the water, it pulled to Raizo and gnawed away at his wrist, cleaning to the bone until enough water ran into its lungs and suffocated its tenuous appetite. Raizo climbed from the pool and sat down, breathing heavily.
“Raizo,” said Smitty, his voice trailing off.
“I just don’t know, Smitty. I’m done.”
“How long do I have? Did the Doc say?”
“No definite answer. Somewhere between four and ten hours, depending on the subject.” said Smitty.
“Let’s get back to the C.P.”
Guns and D.C. had been in the parking lot of the Travel America truck stop for about ten minutes before they spotted their quarry. D.C. didn’t relish the thought, and neither did Guns. The short, stocky woman exited the building and made for her tractor, oblivious to the moment ahead. As she climbed the metal step over the saddle tank, she felt a pull on her belt and for an instant considered giving up.
Guns would wish she had.
The brunette, heavy from truck stop food and sitting on her round butt all day, launched an elbow into Guns’ gut when her feet hit the pavement. He was in good shape, but not so hard as to shrug off the unexpected blow. The trucker followed with a dip to the left and a hammer strike to the groin, causing Guns to fold halfway before D.C. could get around him and stick the .45 in her gaping mouth. They’d known anyone they stole a truck from would put up at least a little resistance, but they hadn’t expected such ferocity from the female leprechaun.
“Shut up. Give me the keys.”
“What’re you gonna do with me?” she asked.
“I just want the truck.”
“You ain’t gonna rape me?”
“What?” D.C. asked, caught off guard.
“I done been raped once. Just, if you got to do it, don’t hurt me. I still gotta work.” she said.
D.C. exchanged a look with Guns, and both of their stomachs turned with her acceptance of such a possibility.
“Nobody’s raping anybody.” Guns said. “We need the truck.”
She thought about it, realized she would not be violated again, and handed over the keys.
“Thanks.” said D.C. “Go back inside and call your boss. Tell him the truck is gone, and ask him if it was repossessed.”
Guns took the driver’s seat, and started the tractor as the thick set woman stalked slowly back to the driver’s lounge, wondering what they needed with so much unleaded.
“Jesus, my fucking balls. Goddamn troll.” said Guns, massaging his crotch.
“You know you want to. Admit it.” said D.C.
“That you’d hit it. I saw the look in your eyes when she touched you. You want to get in those panties, don’t you?”
“Yeah, I’d hit it. With a fucking aluminum bat.”
With the two mobile boom boxes on the lot, DKing was starting to see their plan come together, and his heart lifted when Guns wheeled the gasoline tanker along Sea Island Road and stopped it. Using the Guard for security, Oscar completed his dastardly deed in the name of peace and smiled when he was done. He’d created a fuel/air bomb on wheels with the appropriate amount of plastic explosive lowered into the tank, and a lifting charge fastened to the underside. When the bottom charge detonated, it would lift the truck and trailer, followed by a blast from inside the two-thirds full main chamber. The effect would be that of a downsized daisy-cutter, leveling everything within three hundred yards, according to Oscar’s estimate.
Rolly started from The Shops with specific instructions. Since he’d volunteered and sworn he was a better driver than anyone else at the Command Post, they let him go. If he was lost, it would at least be for a good cause. Raizo insisted on driving the Trooper, with the intention of remaining at ground zero to keep the beasts walking his way. Sad as it was to know another team member would be meeting his maker, the consensus was that it was better to die in a useful fashion rather than sitting around with your thumb up your ass.
Rolly began by driving slowly from the intersection of Sea Island and Demere Road, heading for the target location with his stereo playing on full volume. He made side trips down Brockington Drive and into the apartments behind McDonalds, cutting the sound on the way in and blasting it on the way out in the hopes of pulling the pasty faced mannequins in one direction. It worked, as did Raizo’s trip from around the 1300 block of Ocean Boulevard to the East Beach Causeway. He turned left, and drew the zombies down Demere Road until they were back on Ocean before cutting the noise and doubling back. With coordinated routes, they lured more than eight thousand bone munchers into the area immediately surrounding the Retreat Plaza, where the Winn Dixie supermarket was holding an inordinate number of bipedal slugs. Inside, they were tearing the shelves apart, eating anything they could fit in their mouths. By staying in the building, Oscar supposed, they might escape a good portion of the blast. They needed an ace in the hole.
The ace was Stimp.
The hole? He’d make it himself.
Stimp rode with his feet dangling from the door of the Dauphin, and Hickey hovering over his shoulder on the M134. As the helicopter circled the Winn Dixie, Stimp got his first look at the crowd. He noticed a red coupe speeding away under Rolly’s control, and he could see the roof of the Trooper, parked next to the tanker, amid a sea of ambulatory carcasses. It rolled in waves, like the ripple from a stone tossed into a pond, pushing to get inside the Trooper where, as Stimp could see when the Dauphin came in low, Raizo was firing through the destroyed windshield every last round in his magazines.
The chopper came to a hover over the grocery store, and without touching down, it deposited Stimp and the shaped charges about the size of a hula hoop. He waved the Dauphin off and carried the charges across the roof, dropping and setting the first over the meat section, and the other over the bakery. He blew the second with a pull fuse, shielding his face as the sharp report accompanied a crest of air like a soft, southern drawl. At the edge of the hole, he looked down into the maze of desiccated crackerheads and began sighting in on them one by one, safe for the moment in his elevated position. When he’d emptied half his magazines into the skulls of zombies, he moved to the other charge and blew it, feeling as the shock front passed through the tar paper beneath his feet. He again opened fire on the mass of pulsating carnivores devouring the raw meat, easy targets for Stimp’s calm mind and steady hand. Since he’d made the decision to go, an almost sensuous glaze coated his mind as he mentally prepared for the task.
When the FAL was empty, he set it down on the scorching tar paper that hefted its asphalt scent up his nose alongside the stench of zombies below. Stimp looked out over the façade, to the crowd below, and listened to its moaning, growling din for a full minute. Then he dropped through the five foot hole, aiming for the top shelf of Hamburger Helper and Pasta Sensations. The shelves gave way in turn, lowering him to the tile floor without too much damage. He stepped over bodies, and drew the katana in case he needed a few more seconds. Jogging with the heavy vest, he made two trips along the back of the store before the remaining shit suckers began to converge on him. A few of the faster examples came a little too close, and as a reward they earned a stainless steel necktie, courtesy of a focused man known as Stimpsonjcat. Figuring he had but a few seconds to get in place, he hurled the short sword, amazed when it planted itself in the sternum of a particularly fat specimen bearing down on the pork section. After scaling the top of the section, as an afterthought he grabbed a pack of bacon and shoved it down his vest. At least while dying with honor, he would take solace knowing that he was cooking bacon in the process, preparing that most blessed sacrament.
They closed on Stimp like a herd of retarded cattle, arms flailing, stumbling over the slower ones; mouth breathers intent on consuming the last truly living thing in the building, they would not taste his flesh. What they tasted was fifty pounds of plastic explosive backed against a concrete wall, directing its horrible force against the cavorting mob and flaying the flesh from their bodies, pulverizing their bones with its crushing speed. A plume of dust rose from the two holes in the roof prior to its collapse, a signal relayed by the helicopter crew to Oscar.
Oscar huddled his hefty frame inside the MRAP, listening as Hickey transmitted the news. Rolly was clear. Stimp was vaporized. Raizo, if not dead, soon would be. The bearded zombie ender lowered his head and said a short prayer for those who’d perished, and those about to. He flipped open the safety cover on the detonator and rocked a red switch forward, sending the signal.
Raizo had been chewed through thoroughly when the booster charge went off, and welcomed the cleansing fire as the initial blast flattened the Trooper. The tank floated up about thirty feet in fifteen milliseconds, before the secondary charge began the massive conflagration that would consume seven thousand island citizens, conglomerated in the Retreat Plaza, turning them into ash and beaten, tattered bags of bone and muscle. The concussion broke every window for a half mile and practically leveled all the buildings in the plaza. The Dauphin returned with the M134 under Hickey’s thumb, mopping up stragglers and mincing what meat was left moving. The LRS soldiers closed in after the mushroom cloud faded, shooting when they could, and loading up when they were out of targets.
“Hi, I’m Alicia Wallace, and this is a special update on the infectious outbreak on Saint Simons Island, Georgia. Nearly three weeks ago, an outbreak of still yet unidentified origin resulted in the death of more than ten thousand Americans living there. Our field reporters were there within two days of the outbreak, and we were able to provide you with up to the minute news releases given to us by the Sterling Police Department and the Georgia Emergency Management Agency. A tragic loss of life, but as reported to us there was no cure to this deadly infection that required police and soldiers to actually shoot and kill infected persons. Much has been made of this event by the conspiracy-minded among the population, but as we strive for fair and balanced coverage, we made sure to get our information straight from the source. Several of those who participated directly in the emergency operation agreed to speak with us on condition of anonymity, and to our surprise, their accounts of the incident mirrored those press releases issued by authorities. Here, we go live to Rainbow Island, at the Sea Island community, for a press release from Captain Jimmy Hines, director of Glynn County Emergency Management.”
“Good afternoon. I’m Jimmy Hines, EMA director for Glynn County. At this point, and under advisement from both the Georgia National Guard and the Governor’s office, we are declaring the emergency to be over. The island has been declared a disaster area by the President, and funds to assist us in rebuilding critical infrastructure will be made available. The infection has been one hundred percent contained. I want to say this again for those who might not have heard me: The infection has been contained. The Guard was able to help the Sterling Police Department clear every single structure on Saint Simons and Sea Island, as well as use some advanced technologies to search the unimproved areas of the islands. The islands are safe. Hopefully, all our roads will be open to the public within two weeks, and our businesses able to rebuild and make this community what it once was: The premier destination in Georgia for those seeking a well-earned rest and relaxation experience in the Golden Isles. I’ll turn the microphone over to Chief Timbes for questions…”
Smitty wandered about Neptune Park with no particular destination set. More than anything, he was contemplating the words he’d need to give Shelly in order to coerce her into his life for good, but for a loquacious man it seemed an insurmountable wall. So, he just held her hand and smelled the salt air, feeling the breeze shift in with the incoming tide. He looked over at her, studying her face in the amber light and losing himself for several steps in her impossibly dark eyes. She smiled, waiting for what she knew was coming, and laughed silently to herself when his cell phone chirped. It was D.C.
“Hey, man. How’s The Group treating you?”
“They gave me three weeks before I have to report. In the meantime, I wrangled Doctor Collins into a room over here at the King and Prince.” D.C. said, a devilish chuckle under his words.
“You mean you’ve already done it? Or you’re going to?”
“Just closed escrow, brother. It’s early enough, you and Shelly want to eat?”
“You want to go eat with D.C. and the Doc?” he asked Shelly. She didn’t mind. “Sure, man. Let’s hit Southern Soul before they get packed for the evening.”
D.C. agreed, saying they’d meet the pair after a quick shower. Smitty wandered along with the woman he’d grown on like a fungus, until they reached a set of benches near the pier. He saw an old man lying down, and a smell that should not have been familiar wafted across Smitty’s nostrils. He walked over to the man, hand on the P7 pistol on his hip, and gently shook his shoulder. After a few wiggles, he got no response and he released the pistol’s grip, reaching for the cell phone on the opposite hip. He intended to call for a uniformed officer to run the drunk home or to jail, but was stopped short by a set of brown, stinking teeth sunk into his left hand, held still by the bum’s mangled hams. The P7 jumped from Smitty’s concealed holster and found its way to the bum’s head, where it discharged a single +P hollowpoint into the brain. Shelly jumped at the muffled shot. Smitty began to sweat, but not from the warm, humid air. He ran, and Shelly followed.
Few people were in the area, as every business that was still standing was boarded up. With its fixed barrel pressed against the bum’s skull, the P7 wasn’t as loud as it could have been, so there was no one to call police or cause alarm. Smitty climbed into the eighties model K5 Blazer and turned the motor over, squealing the off road tires in reverse once Shelly was in. He frantically called D.C., who along with Doctor Collins, met him at Gascoigne Park.
“Smitty,” said D.C.
Shelly said nothing. She just held onto him.
“Doc, do you have access to drugs?” Smitty asked.
“The MCC is still here, so yes. What do you need?”
“Did you find anything in all that research to suggest that drugs work on infected?”
The doctor racked her brain, and did remember reading that the infected would respond to nearly all drugs except an antibiotic. She told Smitty about it, but was stymied by his request. He was sitting there, dead, with a demure but athletic lover at his arm, and asked to be put into a coma. He kissed her on the forehead, and left her in the Blazer.
Aden Abbe International Airport was named after Somalia’s first president. When the medium sized aircraft landed, the local representatives of Joel Ungawe met it as usual. Ungawe had had control of the city for quite some time, and any and every thing that passed through the airport was under his control. Most items were allowed to go where they were intended, unless withholding them or stealing them served his purposes as leverage. If one did not keep the populace under their thumb, one would soon find the populace standing on one’s head. Two men unloaded the aircraft, and when the seven foot long wooden crate came down the conveyor belt they immediately noticed to whom it was sent. Joel would be pleased to receive a shipment of colognes, according to the bill of lading, for use on his women. They called a truck over for the personal package.
At the palatial palace occupied by Joel Ungawe, the men quickly alerted his personal guards to the box. Joel came down the front steps and lambasted the two delivery men for bringing a suspicious package to his door. He ordered them to take it to the rear of the house.
“What if it’s a fucking bomb, you idiots? You brought it right to me!”
They shuffled the box along the side of the house until they were near the back stucco wall that surrounded the property. Using pry bars they opened the crate, which smelled heavily of perfume. One of the men was perplexed when he saw the contents, the other was downright confounded.
“Who the fuck sent us a dead white man?”
“I don’t know, but we should tell the boss.”
Joel sat in his upstairs office, going over his books. Even a warlord had to know where the money was going. There was a commotion in the back yard, and he swiveled in his leather bound chair to peer out the window. Nothing. The crate had been opened, but no explosion. It appeared empty. When Joel turned back to his desk, there was a figure filling the door, a white man holding a curved, two foot long kukri blade. His face was more than white, it was gray and dry looking, and there was a steady stream of brownish blood flowing from it. The eyes were red as an American sports car, and focused with pupils black as the ethos on him.
Joel grasped the Browning Hi Power from a side drawer, and leveled it at the man.
“What do you want? Who are you? Why are you here?”
When Smitty answered with a guttural growl and blackish spit, Joel opened fire, emptying the ten round magazine into Smitty’s gut. Joel rose and charged Smitty, where he met the pointy end of the kukri before falling to his knees. The white man dropped to a knee, boring into Joel’s mind with his eyes, and embraced the warlord in that final way, locking his incisors behind Joel’s jugular and tearing outward with all the muscles in his back. Blood issued forth, flowing along Joel’s back and staining his thin, canary shirt and in his last few moments he had the displeasure of seeing Smitty spit a hunk of dark flesh onto the floor. The warlord fell back, slumping to a stop on the hardwood floor and expiring.
Smitty stood, turned, and walked down the front steps past the bodies of the guards. In the street, he started walking toward the neighborhood his research told him was owned by Ungawe’s men. A hint of death was in the air, tainting the dusty breeze and spurring his step toward the unassuming populace.